Identity Politics • Post • Progressivism • Religion and Society • The Culture • The Left

The Ahmari Theory of Internal Diplomacy

How should conservative and traditionalist Americans go forward in today’s current political climate? That is the question at the root of an ongoing dispute arising from Sohrab Ahmari’s First Things article, “Against David French-ism” and David French’s rebuttal in National Review called “What Sohrab Ahmari Gets Wrong.

Ahmari argues, “The only way is through”—that is, we must “fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good.” Essentially, he is arguing for a restoration that places God and natural law at the center of the ordered world we inhabit; he calls for actually treating the culture war as a war.

French, for his part, argues that the way forward contains two components, namely, “zealous defense of the classical-liberal order . . . and zealous advocacy of fundamentally Christian and Burkean conservative principles . . . It’s the formulation that renders the government primarily responsible for safeguarding liberty, and the people primarily responsible for exercising that liberty for virtuous purposes.” We need to continue on the path of using peacetime liberal democracy to achieve our ends through the institutions of law, conserving our inheritance as we go.

Most of the commentary emanating from this initial encounter has been frustrating to read because the partisans of neither side seem to be able to agree on the most basic questions worth asking before going forward. That is: what is the strategic situation of conservatism, Christianity, traditionalism, and family in America? Are we holding our own against the radical Left? Or are we in danger of losing the culture war for good? Hardly any social conservatives I know argue that we are winning the culture war. What we can’t seem to agree on is whether we’re not losing or losing badly.

I think we are losing, and losing badly. Perhaps I’m overly alarmist, like Paul Ehrlich—predicting imminent doom like he did in the Population Bomb. In the 1970s, he wrote, “The battle to feed all of humanity is over . . . (and as a result) hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.” He said, “nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.” I suppose many conservatives of the French variety would argue as much. But am I over dramatizing the strategic defeat which traditionalists and conservatives have been handed by the Radical Left over the last 100 years?

I don’t think so. My evidence? Look at American social life over the past century. Out-of-wedlock pregnancy, which used to be nearly nonexistent and was so for centuries, grew from less than 1 in 10 births 90 years ago to nearly 2 in 5 today. Divorce, which was once so toxic that it caused a schism within Christendom, is now commonly accepted by a majority of people who profess to be Christians. The average age at which a young person first consumes pornography is 11. And every year, 600,000 of the unborn are killed in the nation’s abortion factories to satisfy our insatiable need for inconsequential sex. As Cardinal Robert Sarah notes, the West (including the United States) is undergoing a silent apostasy. Americans go to church less, pray less, and believe in God in far fewer proportions than in generations gone by. Michael Anton goes into greater detail describing our poor strategic situation in The Flight 93 Election.

Again, this is the essential question that we have to answer going forward: are we just losing or losing badly and in danger of imminent collapse?

The wing of the Republican Party dominated by the likes of Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, and David French are 21st century Graham Martins in the culture war. Noble but painfully blind, Graham Martin lost a foster son during the Vietnam War. He was a Cold Warrior of the highest order and made greater sacrifices against the Communist menace than most Americans ever did. But Ambassador Martin wrote to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger two weeks before the fall of South Vietnam that he did not want to start evacuating the capital city of Saigon because “Panic in Saigon arising from our actions” was “a far greater worry to me than North Vietnamese capabilities.” Martin couldn’t see past the few tactical victories which the South won as it collapsed; those tactical victories made him blind to the strategic collapse which was unfolding at the same time. As a result, a humanitarian disaster unfolded as countless South Vietnamese were unable to get away from the advancing Communists, leaving them to be persecuted, imprisoned, and murdered.

French, likewise, has spent a lifetime fighting for conservative and Christian causes. He has won numerous tactical victories; but how can any clear-eyed assessment of our situation conclude that strategically we’ve been winning?

The “David French” wing of the conservative movement tells us that we should hold to liberal democracy and its institutions. National Review editor Rich Lowry points out that Ahmari was shocked into his scorched-earth position by the Kavanaugh hearings. “Imagine, though, if conservatives had made the case for Kavanaugh on the basis that decency doesn’t matter to us much anymore—so we don’t care about the truth of the allegations against him—and furthermore, that we expect him to impose his Christian (or more specifically, Catholic) values on the country,” Lowry argues. “We would have lost the confirmation fight in a rout and would have deserved to.”

Yes, we win occasional tactical victories like the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. But overall, I see long term defeat. Just look at our declining families and churches. Just look at the state of American marriage and a birth-rate which has plummeted to record lows.

On the other hand, people skeptical of the Ahmari approach such as Rod Dreher ask, “First, if not liberalism, then what? . . . The (Catholic) Church can’t even get most of the Americans who profess the Catholic faith to agree with . . . core Catholic teachings. So, for all liberalism’s flaws, there is no alternative that is both preferable and realistic, at least not at the present time.” Dreher goes on to say that we are doomed anyway because Christians are a minority within our neo-pagan culture that values equality above religious freedom. It is true that practicing traditionalists are a minority in this country and it is true that our views are falling out of the mainstream. Dreher is also right that most people who nominally call themselves Christians are just neo-pagans underneath. But perhaps a time of exertion and persecution will wake them from their slumber and force them to choose to God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob or the God of Sex, Consumption, and Radical Autonomy?

The question is, what are we going to do to preserve our place in this country before the state religion of progressive liberalism wipes us out? Adam Serwer, potentially has an answer.

In his Atlantic article, “The Illiberal Right Throws a Tantrum,” he scolds the Ahmari wing of the Republican Party as Orbanists (after Hungary’s Victor Orban, a pejorative for people skeptical of globalism, liberal democracy as a mechanism, and progressive liberalism). He mocks Ahmari for even considering the idea of abandoning liberal democracy. “Black Americans did not abandon liberal democracy because of slavery, Jim Crow, and the systematic destruction of whatever wealth they managed to accumulate,” Serwer explains. “Latinos did not abandon liberal democracy because of ‘Operation Wetback,’ or Proposition 187, or because of a man who won a presidential election on the strength of his hostility toward Latino immigrants . . . The American creed has no more devoted adherents than those who have been historically denied its promises, and no more fair-weather friends than those who have taken them for granted.”

Besides the fact Serwer evidently never read illiberal African Americans like Stokely Carmichael or Latino Americans like Reis Tijerina and besides the fact that he thinks he’s speaking up for Hispanic Americans while advocating policies that undermine the wages of minority groups, he provides a clue as to the answer going forward. African Americans and Hispanics gained their rightful place in this society by gaining political and cultural power through nonviolent civil disobedience. They consistently agitated non-violently to get the state to overreact, proving that the regime was founded on coercion, belying its claims to neutrality.

If you accept the hypothesis that we are being defeated strategically, then other methods need to be tried and soon. For me, the ultimate strategic goal needs to be a new sort of Peace of Westphalia. It ought to allow adherents of traditional religion who place family and church at or above the individual in importance for crafting laws and cultures to do so. It ought to allow those of us who see our pre-Enlightenment Christian heritage as just as valuable if not more valuable than the liberal democrats see theirs and to craft laws which allow us to live this way without being molested by Progressive Liberal jihadists.

What does this mean and how do we get there? It means identifying Progressive Liberalism as a religion which seeks to destroy our own religion. And it means acknowledging that progressive liberalism, for now, has become the state religion of our liberal democracy—saturating most of our other institutions (our culture, the family, our social norms, etc.). It means understanding that our liberal democracy cannot be neutral as long as progressive liberalism remains the state religion. It means truly waging a cultural war of the most intensive kind to remove it from imperiling our ability to exist in this country without being completely marginalized.

We need to recognize we are religious minorities and then demand the same minority rights which others have used to carve out their own spaces in this country. And if they refuse us this right, then we need to goad them intelligently into using state power against us to illustrate to everyone that they’re about the bald faced use of power to suppress the family, the Church, and the little platoons that make a civil society worth its salt.

How can we do this? It means preferring traditionalists by patronizing their businesses and supporting individuals legally (as David French, to his credit, has done) and financially when they are persecuted by the state religion of Progressivism. It means boycotting businesses which seek to expand the stranglehold which the religion Progressive Liberalism has over this country. Other minority groups have that right; so should we. Or, in other words, we need to separate the Progressive Liberal religion (our chief adversary) from the Liberal Democratic State. And yes, maybe it means even more aggressive peaceful measures than that—refusing to accept the actions of an illegitimate state which persecutes the Church.

Perhaps the threat of Ahmari’s rejection of liberal democracy is still useful because the threat of a total conservative rejection of liberal democracy imperils a great many things which the Left adores. Perhaps it will work on secular liberals of good will by making them understand that there are conservatives and traditionalists who are just as committed to their religion as the Progressive Liberals who dominate our culture, our corporations, and our government. Perhaps this can goad enough Americans of good will to get the federal government to take one huge step back from national policy and towards a federalism that allows us actually to coexist in a truly pluralistic society.

In international relations, Henry Kissinger called this the “Madman Theory of Diplomacy.” President Nixon pretended to be a madman, capable of anything, even using nuclear weapons on Beijing, Hanoi, or Moscow. The threat of President Nixon the madman worked to get the Communist Bloc to negotiate. Maybe it will work on the leftist bloc. It’s certainly worth trying in light of the state of American social and political life today. Perhaps the “Madman Theory of Internal State Diplomacy” can save both the system of liberal democracy for traditionalists and today’s neo-pagans alike.

Photo Credit: Nastasic/Getty Images

Post • Religion and Society • Satire

‘Enlightenment’

It seems the Dalia Lama
Has chosen to calm a
Storm of speculation,
With new information.

Seem that a burning question
Of lamaic succession,
Had the world in a whirl:
“Might the next be a girl?”

“Or does Tibet, like Rome,
“Claim a Y chromosome
“Is the prerequisite
“To be spiritually fit?”

Though they ardently quizzed ‘im,
He withheld his wisdom—
But after some delay
He at last had his say:

“Why would you all suppose
“A girl couldn’t be chose?
“But—this wise-woman lama,
She must be one hot mama.”

And an uproar ensued:
“How benighted! How rude!”
Every journalist fumed
Each one perfectly groomed.

Worldwide, city by city,
Newsgirls hired to be pretty
Earnestly contended
That they’d been sooo offended

But serenely the priest
Just returned to the East,
Where the incense smoke swirls,
To dream of pretty girls.

Photo credit:  Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

America • Center for American Greatness • Democrats • Immigration • Post • Religion and Society

Christians Don’t Have to Support Open Borders

Mexico has decided to reassume operational control and responsibility over its southern border with Guatemala, pledging to deploy up to 6,000 of its own national guard troops. The shift comes in response to President Trump’s recent tariff threat. This is most welcome, not to mention in accord with principles of justice.

Open-borders activists are fond of arguing (asserting without evidence, really) that true Christianity is pro-open borders because the alternative—a sane, functional, and efficient immigration system that prioritizes and secures the interests, safety, and welfare of American citizens—is somehow “cruel.”

That’s nonsense.

Christians need not support open borders and, by extension, the crime, suffering, poverty, and chaos that such a policy generates. In fact, supporting open borders is deeply anti-Christian; it is not compassionate but, rather, insane. Rational Christians have a duty to oppose open borders, no matter how slick the rhetorical presentation.

America’s immigration “debate” is deeply confused because we don’t know what a “right” actually is. Open-borders activists assert that those who wish to immigrate have a “right” to do so: “A has a right to x”—in this case, an immigrant has a right to enter America.

That’s not the proper way to think about rights, however, because it leaves out the corollary. If there is a right, then there is also a duty to respect it. So, advocates of this position actually ought to be saying, “A has a right to x that B has a duty to respect”—in this case, an immigrant has a right to enter America that the American people have a duty to respect.

They don’t employ this formulation for obvious reasons. The former view of rights—as moral powers or claims of absolute good—is problematic because it doesn’t tell us what to do when two so-called rights conflict. But when we adhere to a view of rights that is relational and grounded in justice, it becomes possible to negotiate tensions that on the first view are interminable and completely insurmountable.

That’s a healthier and more clarifying kind of politics, to be sure. But it forces more careful consideration of the issues—perhaps a kind that is unlikely to yield the desired results for radical illegal immigration fetishists.

Moral reasoning takes place within a framework populated by general moral principles that must then be prudently applied in and to discrete, concrete situations and within particular contexts. An example is illustrative. Say I have a friend who lends me his axe because he’s going to be out of town for a few days, and he knows I’ll need it for a project I have planned during that time. When he returns, ordinarily, I have a duty to return his axe to him upon request. But, imagine my friend returns, and he asks me to return his axe so that he can use it to murder his neighbor. Obviously, in that situation, it would be immoral for me to return it to him. Why?

On the first view of rights—“A has a right to x”—it’s really impossible for me to refuse his request; after all, I am in temporary possession of his property, and, ordinarily, property ought to be returned to its owner, seemingly without regard for what the owner will do with it—it’s his property, not mine. But the second view of rights—“A has a right to x that B has a duty to respect”—allows us adequately to address what, on the first view, was deeply problematic. Because I am involved in the moral decision-making process, it’s easy to understand why I should not return my friend’s axe: I am not duty-bound to respect my friend’s request if he will use his reclaimed property to commit murder; that would be irrational, and I have no duty to behave contrary to another’s good. Basically, general principles set the overall framework in which moral reasoning operates, but those principles must be prudently applied to specific events; they cannot be followed mechanistically at all times and in all places, regardless of context, as Immanuel Kant would insist.

There is no doubt that Christians must have a special concern for the plight of refugees—those who are forced from their homes either because of natural disasters or man-made calamities; indeed, that is a constant teaching of the Catholic Church. Even refugees, however, do not have an unqualified right of entry; their entry claims must always be weighed against our duty to accept them.

The test is whether their entry benefits and is in the interest of American citizens. We can think of a sliding scale that presents a different moral calculation depending on the classification of those who seek entry: refugees, criminals, and economic migrants. As we’ve seen, on one end of the spectrum are refugees. But even they do not have a presumptive right of entry, though they certainly have a very strong claim.

The easiest case involves criminals and others who wish to strike at the heart of civil society—whether they plan to do it at the border or are likely to become involved in such destabilizing activity after they’re admitted. These persons can be excluded categorically; their interests weigh not at all on the scale, and the United States is not in any way obligated to admit them.

Economic migrants present the hardest case. In one sense, such persons are “forced” from their native countries in search of improved economic prospects, but, in another sense, they do make the choice to seek out greener pastures. This is the quintessential case to test our framework. Economic migrants must be assessed to determine what they will provide to the nation; if the harms of admitting them outweigh the benefits, then they should be excluded—and it’s OK to make that calculation because, if admitting certain people would harm American citizens, then to allow such admission would be as irrational and immoral as returning my friend’s axe when he has told me he would use it to kill his neighbor.

This framework gives us a way to think about an issue that is central to the existence of a nation—i.e., “one people,” as the Declaration of Independence identifies us. It’s also eminently sensible, threading the moral needle between our country’s blindly pro- and anti-immigration extremes.

It doesn’t matter how much cheap, unearned moral superiority Democrats glean from quoting a single line from “The New Colossus” as though it’s law—“Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses . . .”—because nobody has an unqualified right to enter America. Certainly Christianity makes no such claim.

Here in America, we the people rule, and we get to decide who becomes our fellow citizens. Full stop.

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America • Center for American Greatness • History • political philosophy • Post • Religion and Society • The Constitution • The Culture

The American Founding’s High-Minded Purposes

James Madison is justly celebrated for his frequently stated opinion that “all power in just and free Government is derived from compact.” But Madison’s view is not endorsed by all purported champions of the founders. A recent article, “Our Unwritten Constitution: Orestes Brownson and the Foundation of American Liberty,” published as part of the Real Clear Policy series on the American Project and co-authored by Richard M. Reinsch II and the late Peter Augustine Lawler, argues that Madison is utterly mistaken in his claim. In fact, the authors claim that reliance on “Lockean contract theory” produced a constitution that was “devised solely in the interest of the rights of individuals” and was “based on the unrealistic abstraction of unrelated autonomous individuals.”

Lawler and Reinsch claim that autonomous individuals—that is, human beings abstracted from real life—cannot provide the appropriate material for political life. They are not “parents, creatures, [or] even citizens. Lockean thought, thus, isn’t political enough to be the foundation of government, and it isn’t relational enough to articulate properly the limits of governments or the roles of family and organized religion.”

Reinsch and Lawler rely heavily on Orestes Brownson’s criticism of Locke’s influence on the American Founding. They describe Brownson, accurately if a bit oddly, as “a 19th century New England intellectual associated with the transcendentalist movement who converted to Roman Catholicism” and vouch for his assertion that “the equality of human persons is a fact. But it is a fact that entered the world through Christian revelation and was later affirmed as self-evident by philosophers.” The authors maintain, according to Brownson, the self-evidence of human equality as it appears in the Declaration of Independence “is undermined” by its “pure Lockean dimension . . . where individual sovereignty becomes the foundation of government. Every man, Locke says, has property in his own person, and for Brownson that assertion of absolute self-ownership is, in effect, ‘political atheism’.”

Brownson, however, vigorously resists the idea of self-ownership: “man is never absolutely his own, but always and everywhere belongs to his Creator; it is clear that no government originating in humanity alone can be a legitimate government. Every such government is founded on the assumption that man is God, which is a great mistake—is, in fact, the fundamental sophism which underlies every error and sin.”

Our authors endorse Brownson’s criticism of the notion that the just powers of government derive from the consent of the governed or that sovereignty ultimately resides in the people. To say that the people are sovereign is “implicit atheism” because “[s]ocial contract thought lacks an external standard higher than man’s will that could limit, shape, and condition it. The highest being is man, who would self-create government by consent . . .” This is the universe of “self-sovereignty or political atheism” that Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau occupied and which the authors of the Declaration of Independence obediently followed.

The authors of the Declaration, of course, appealed to the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” as their authority. Were they simply disguising the fact that they relied on no higher authority with high sounding rhetoric?—that despite their rhetoric they were “political atheists”? It is true the Declaration is the quintessential statement of social compact theory, but isn’t it also clear that its entire argument rests on the acknowledgment of a Creator and an intelligible Creation?

Reinsch and Lawler are wrong to assert that compact is only about the protection of rights and does not involve obligations. In a social compact, every right entails a reciprocal obligation. Every member of the compact who joins for the equal protection of his equal rights has the duty to protect the equal rights of fellow citizens—even the right of revolution is a reciprocal duty belonging to all citizens. Anyone who is unwilling or unable to perform the duties attendant upon membership in a community based on social compact is ineligible to become a member.

Our authors apparently did not notice the closing statement of the signers of the Declaration of Independence: “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” The signers are willing to sacrifice life and property—both of which are natural rights—to preserve their honor. They believed that honor or justice was of higher rank than the natural right to life or property. Clearly, the signers of the Declaration ranked the goods of the soul (honor, justice) higher than the goods of the body (life, property). For Hobbes, of course, honor is not any part of the human good. It is utterly impossible to imagine him ever pledging his “sacred honor” to any cause.) But Reinsch and Lawler maintain throughout, that the Lockean authors of the Declaration and the Constitution sought only to provide protection for the natural rights of autonomous individuals or, as they described it on one occasion, “to provide protection against violent death and to secure property rights.” As we have just demonstrated, however, they are mistaken. In ranking honor above life, the authors of the Declaration demonstrated they were not Hobbesians, willing to sacrifice everything to the “fear of violent death.”

In addition, the Declaration never claims that the principal end or purpose of government is the protection of natural rights; it is rather the “safety and happiness of the people”—what one prominent political philosopher described as the alpha and omega of political life as depicted by Aristotle. Our authors make the significant, but frequent, error of those who insist that the American founding was radically modern, simply ignoring the obvious Aristotelian elements incorporated in the framers’ handiwork.

Bound by the Law of Nature
The authors of The Federalist accepted the Declaration of Independence as the authoritative source of the Constitution’s authority. Madison in The Federalist insisted that the proposed Constitution must be “strictly republican” because no other form of government could be “reconcilable with the genius of the people of America; with the fundamental principles of the Revolution; or with the honorable determination which animates very votary of freedom to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.”

The “genius of the people” refers to the habits, manners, customs, history, traditions, and religion of Americans. Contrary to our authors, the social compact founders were well aware of the necessity of including these factors in their constitutional deliberations. No one can read The Federalist or, for that matter, the writings of the Anti-Federalists, without coming to that realization.

The second and central factor that requires “strictly republican government” is adherence to “the fundamental principles of the Revolution,” i.e., the principles of the Declaration. The third reason is that strictly republican government requires self-government; and that means rule by the consent of the governed, a principle squarely based on social compact.

In following Brownson, Reinsch and Lawler may have followed a false prophet. Brownson’s account of Locke is seriously defective because he seemed to be unaware of the unique theological-political problem that Locke faced. Our authors seem to have followed him through the gates of error.

The wars of religion were still a fresh memory to Locke and other political philosophers of his era. They were not just a distant memory to the American founders, either. In the classical world, the laws of particular cities were always supported by their gods. Obedience to the gods and obedience to the laws were one and the same. As soon as there was a universal God for all cities, however, political obligation became problematic. In the Christian world, conflicts between obligations to God and obligations to civil authority became inevitable, and in cases of conflict, the first obligation of Christians was to God or ecclesiastical authority. This reveals the apolitical character of Christianity. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “our government is in heaven.”

The universalism of Christianity, of course, makes an appeal to particular gods as the ground or foundation of the laws of a particular regime impossible. Some ground for political obligation—for politics—independent of Christian theology had to be found if political life was to be free from the continuous strife engendered by the theological disputes that arose within Christianity. The late Harry Jaffa probably understood this theological-political predicament better than anyone when he argued:

Christianity had established within the souls of men the idea of a direct, personal, trans-political relationship between the individual and his God. But this relationship did not determine what the laws were to be, or the precise character of the obligation owed to those laws. The idea of the state of nature—the idea of a non-political state governed by moral law—corresponded to the relationship which every Christian had with every other Christian as he considered himself prior to and apart from his membership in a particular civil society. Just as every Christian was under the moral law, without being a member of civil society, so every human being was under the moral law of the state of nature, prior to entering a particular civil society by way of the social contract.

It is clear in Locke that everyone is bound by the law of nature—the moral law—in the state of nature. Thus, Jaffa argues, the social contract, by creating particular political communities, reestablishes the idea of man as by nature a political animal, an idea that was absent from the apolitical universe of Christianity. It provided a ground for political obligation, based in reason and consent, that was also absent in Christianity. Far from the “political atheism” described by Brownson, Locke restored man’s political nature based on higher law, the laws of nature—and he did it on Aristotelian grounds!

Good Theology and Good Government
Of course, Locke spoke most often in terms of individual rights, something that Brownson deplored as leading to the radically autonomous individuals who assumed, he falsely believed, the sovereignty of God. Brownson misunderstood Locke, but he must surely have understood the origin of the idea of individual rights was in Christian theology itself. In Christian theology, man’s relationship to God is personal, thus the political relationship must also be “personal,” that is based on individual rights. Locke understood that the principles of natural right must be able to accommodate the regnant theology. Rights must belong to individuals; that was good theology—and it was good government.

Aristotle says that the principles of human nature are universal, but for human nature to flourish, for human potential to become actual, it must do so in particular human communities—in the polis. For Christians, the highest aspirations are in the life to come, and political life in this world is merely a preparation for the next. Paul cautioned the Colossians to “mind the things above, not the things on earth.” From this point of view, man is by “nature” apolitical. Social compact reaffirms man’s political nature by establishing particular political communities where this-worldly aspirations are the proper objects of political life. At the same time, man’s universal nature is affirmed by the law of nature that is the standard and measure by which particular communities are judged. While reasserting man’s political nature, social compact at the same time retains its compatibility with the City of God because natural law is understood to be, in Locke’s terms, “the Will of God” or reason which is the “the voice of God.”

The Declaration is also Aristotelian in its recognition of universal human nature (“all men are created equal”) but also recognizing that the implementation of that equality in securing of the “safety and happiness” of the people requires the creation of a “separate and equal” nation. Only in a separate and equal nation—a sovereign nation—can the privileges and immunities of citizenship be guaranteed and the habits, manners and virtues suitable for republican citizenship be inculcated.

No doubt Reinsch and Lawler will complain that this social construct is hardly Aristotelian because it is a human construct, an act of pure human will, whereas Aristotle maintained that man is by nature a political animal. For Aristotle, of course, the polis does not grow spontaneously—it is not the result of natural growth; rather, it had to be “constituted” by human art, and the one who first “constituted” the polis, Aristotle says, is the cause of the “greatest of goods.” The polis exists by nature because, while it is last in the order of time, it is first in the order of final causality. All associations—male and female, the family, the tribe, the village—are incomplete, and their incompleteness points to the polis as a final cause. And the final cause is nature. Aristotle’s polis thus seems to be no less the result of artifice than social compact. In other words, Aristotle’s polis—no less than America—had to be founded by human art. Had Aristotle faced the same theological-political situation that Locke faced, I believe he would have agreed that social compact was the only possible ground for establishing political life on the foundations of nature or natural law.

Brownson and our authors are particularly exercised by Locke’s “doctrine” of self-ownership. They believe this to be the most destructive of all Locke’s subversive writings. Men always belong to the Creator; they can never belong to themselves. But what is the sovereignty of the individual presupposed by social compact “but the assumption that man is God?” Let’s see.

In the sixth paragraph of the Second Treatise, Locke spells out the obligations that men have in the state of nature. It is quite remarkable that in a book famous for its advocacy of rights, we hear first about the obligations that everyone has to the law of nature:

The State of Nature has a Law of Nature to govern it, which obliges every one: And Reason, which is that Law, teaches all Mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions. For Men being all the Workmanship of one Omnipotent, and infinitely wise Maker; All the Servants of one Sovereign Master, sent into the world by his order and about his business, they are his Property, whose Workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s Pleasure.

Men are thus the property of “one Omnipotent, and infinitely wise Maker.” This act of creation—the “workmanship of God”—makes each man equally the property of God, and each being the property of God, no one can be the property of anyone else. Thus each is “equal and independent” with respect to every other human being, which can only mean that “every Man has a Property in his own person” in his relations with every other human being, but is responsible to God in fulfilling his obligations to the law of nature—those obligations that God has imposed for the preservation of His workmanship. According to Locke in the First Treatise, God made man and planted in him a desire for self-preservation so that “so curious and wonderful a piece of Workmanship” should not perish. And according to Locke in the Second Treatise, God has set the individual free and made him “master of himself, and Proprietor of his own Person” so that he might go about fulfilling his obligations to the laws of nature, which he describes as the “Will of God” in the service of preserving God’s workmanship, not only of individuals but of mankind.

Liberty Is the Law of God and Nature
This is hardly the portrait of radically autonomous individuals who seek to supplant the authority of God drawn by Brownson and endorsed by Reinsch and Lawler, but it is the authentic Locke available to anyone who is willing to read him with any modicum of care. The American Founders read Locke as enlightened statesmen, gleaning political wisdom from his superior understanding of the theological-political problem. It was the absence of such disputes that made the success of the American Founding possible—a rare time in history when such a providential dispensation favored political founding—a dispensation prepared in large measure by Locke.

Madison was right: compact is the ground of all just and free government, and the theologians at the time of the founding agreed.

I will discuss here only one widely circulated sermon that was typical of the many sermons that relied on compact to reconcile questions of theology and politics. The Reverend John Tucker delivered “An Election Sermon” in Boston in 1771 that was profoundly influenced by Locke. “Civil and ecclesiastical societies are, in some essential points, different,” Tucker declaimed. “Our rights, as men, and our rights, as Christians, are not, in all respects, the same.” It cannot be denied that God’s

Subjects stand in some special relation and are under some peculiar subjection to him, distinct from their relation to and connection with civil societies, yet we justly conclude, that as this divine polity, with its sacred maxims, proceeded from the wise and benevolent Author of our being, none of its injunctions can be inconsistent with that love of liberty he himself has implanted in us, nor interfere with the laws and government of human societies, whose constitution is consistent with the rights of men.

Tucker exhibited a common view among New England clergy: the constitution of the “divine polity” cannot be in conflict with any civil government “whose constitution is consistent with the rights of men” and the “love of liberty” that God implanted in human nature. According to Tucker, the proper constitution of civil government begins with the reflection that

All men are naturally in a state of freedom, and have an equal claim to liberty. No one, by nature, not by any special grant from the great Lord of all, has any authority over another. All right therefore in any to rule over others, must originate from those they rule over, and be granted by them. Hence, all government, consistent with that natural freedom, to which all have an equal claim, is founded in compact, or agreement between the parties;—between Rulers and their Subjects, and can be no otherwise. Because Rulers, receiving their authority originally and solely from the people, can be rightfully possessed of no more, than these have consented to, and conveyed to them.

Thus compact seems to be the key to reconciling divine polity and civil polity. Tucker began the sermon with the invocation that “the great and wise Author of our being, has so formed us, that the love of liberty is natural.” Liberty is the law of God and nature. The laws of divine polity are prescribed in the Gospel; those of civil polity are derived from social compact. What connects divine polity and civil polity is the liberty that God created as the essential part of man’s nature. Social compact is the reasonable exercise of that freedom in the formation of civil society. Thus it seems that the theological-political problem—the problem of potentially conflicting obligations between divine polity and civil polity—is solved by Tucker, at least on the moral and political level, on the basis of social compact, which provides the only rightful basis for government because it is the only origin of government consistent with natural liberty.

In fashioning his account of the social compact, Tucker readily acknowledges the influence of “the great and judicious Mr. Locke,” extensively quoting and citing “Locke on Civil Government.” I think it fair to say that “America’s philosopher” dominated the pulpit no less than he dominated legislative halls and constitutional conventions. Thus a remarkable providence seemed to have guided the American founding in the form of a dispensation from the theological-political disputes that would have rendered impossible any attempt to establish constitutional government.

To argue that the American Founders fell prey to Locke’s radical individualism when they relied on social compact reasoning is simply perverse and a mischaracterization of the Founders’ (and Locke’s) understanding. The Founders did not read Locke as a radical modern. They were unaware—or ignored—the philosophic dispute between ancients and moderns. As statesmen, they were interested in the history of politics and were free to choose the most salutary and beneficial practical solutions. Their reading of Locke traced the ideas of natural law directly back to Aristotle. They were mostly unaware of the latter-day discovery of Locke’s esoteric writing that provided insights into the radical core of his thought. Locke’s exoteric writings provided an entirely salutary political teaching that was adopted—and adapted—by the Founders.

The Founders’ decision decision to follow Locke on social compact—“the principles of the Revolution”—meant that the end of government was the “safety and happiness” of the American people, an Aristotelian conception that helped to insulate the founding from the storms of modernity that were threatening Europe. It provided America with a more comprehensive and elevated purpose than simply avoiding “violent death” and “protecting property,” the Hobbesian purposes assigned by Reinsch and Lawler.

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Donald Trump • Israel • Post • Religion and Society

What Donald Trump and King David Have in Common

Around the middle of Barack Obama’s second term, I began to hear from several ministers that their congregations (of different denominations) had begun to spontaneously and fervently pray for our country.

These were not the generic “God Bless America” prayers; they were heartfelt anguish over America’s drift from God’s Truth and way, begging for God’s mercy and grace to give us another chance.

Like the old Anglican general confession, they were admissions that “we as sheep, have gone astray” and “Lord have mercy upon us!”

There seemed to be a recognition that our country’s inexorable departure from divine standards of morality—fidelity, honesty, decency, responsibility—had now come home to roost in broken marriages, shattered families, damaged parenthood, shady business practices, and political corruption. Moral breakdown, in turn, created much needless suffering: crime, drug addiction, mental illness, and a rising suicide rate, especially among the young. We seemed on the brink of losing everything: social order, the rule of law, freedom of religion, any meaning of happiness. Millions of Christians were crying out to God to save us from this destruction, perversion, depravity, indecency, profanity, hopelessness and pain.

Then Donald Trump was elected president. Some have suggested that he was God’s answer to those prayers. Others have regarded that suggestion as blasphemous and dangerous. I find the answer in another traditional prayer in the Anglican Liturgy: that “God will answer our prayers in the time and in the way that is best for us.”

Trump may seem an unlikely vessel of God’s providence and grace. But it may help to understand how this could be the case by looking at the Biblical character that I think he most resembles: King David of Israel.

David was an unlikely Leader of God’s nation, but he was chosen by the Almighty for some very specific reasons: he defended his people’s honor and God’s ways. His very human moral failings caused him great pain, and although he was able to establish his nation, God did not let him (because of his sins) build the temple.

President Trump once said how much he appreciated the tremendous support of Evangelical Christians, “even though I don’t deserve it.” Both remind me of God’s promise to Abram and his people Israel: “I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you.”

David was an unlikely candidate for king of Israel. When the Prophet Samuel came to anoint one of Jesse’s sons for the kingship, David wasn’t even there—he was out tending his sheep. But David had done something as a shepherd that qualified him to be king. When his flock had been attacked by ferocious animals (lions and bears) he single-handedly and fearlessly defended his sheep. This is the first duty of a ruler: to protect his people. Our American tradition, viewed in light of the social contract theory of John Locke, posits that free individuals form a government explicitly to protect our natural rights to life, liberty, and property.

President Trump’s chief concern with protecting America from military threats, from unfair trade practices and from the drugs and crime of illegal immigration all show this essential concern for the government preserving its people.

Despite his courage and devotion to duty, David was still viewed with skepticism. His inexperience disqualified him to rule in the eyes of his father and brothers. When David’s resolve was tested by the attack of the monster warrior Goliath, his comrades insisted he put on all the accoutrements of battle: armor, a helmet, a coat of mail and an enormous sword. David found he could not move weighted down by this equipment: he couldn’t be himself. One thinks of Trump rejecting all the “requirements” of running for president: lobbyists and consultants, advisors and party connections, interest groups, even daily intelligence briefings. He said, “I cannot be myself in all this garb!”

So, David faced a massive army and giant warrior with his staff, a slingshot, and a few stones. The monster killer Goliath mocked him: “Am I a dog that you come out to meet me with sticks?!” Goliath told David he would kill him, cut him into pieces, and feed him to the birds and the beasts. David proclaimed that he came “in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have defied.” He proceeded to kill the enemy with one small stone from his slingshot. The powerful enemy army fled in fear and King David established Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Trump confirmed that by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by moving the U.S. embassy there.

King David was not a perfect man and he suffered much for it. His infidelities caused him to lose a son; other family members rebelled against him. He was misunderstood and persecuted. His sins disqualified him from building the temple, leaving that honor to his son Solomon. But like another rescuer of Israel, Esther, he was “for such a time as this.”

And so is President Trump.

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Post • Religion and Society • The Culture • the family • The Left

Why So Many Mass Shootings? Ask the Right Questions and You Might Find Out

This past weekend, Americans learned of another mass shooting, this time by an employee who decided to murder as many of the people he had worked with for years as possible. As of this writing, the murder toll is 12 people.

Every American asks why. What was the killer’s motive? When we read there is “no known motive,” we are frustrated. Human beings want to make sense of life, especially of evil.

Liberals (in this regard, liberals’ views are essentially as the same as leftists’) are virtually united in ascribing these shootings to guns. Just this past weekend, in a speech in Brazil, former President Barack Obama told an audience:

“Our gun laws in the United States don’t make much sense. Anybody can buy any weapon any time—without much, if any, regulation. They can buy (guns) over the internet. They can buy machine guns.”

That the former president fabricated a series of falsehoods about the United States—and maligned, on foreign soil, the country that twice elected him president—speaks to his character and to the character of the American news media that have been completely silent about these falsehoods. But the main point here is that, like other liberals and leftists, when Obama addresses the subject of mass shootings—in Brazil, he had been talking about the children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012—he talks about guns.

Yet, America had plenty of guns when its mass murder rate was much lower. Grant Duwe, a Ph.D. in criminology and director of research and evaluation at the Minnesota Department of Corrections, gathered data going back 100 years in his 2007 book, “Mass Murder in the United States: A History.”

Duwe’s data reveal:

In the 20th century, every decade before the 1970s had fewer than 10 mass public shootings. In the 1950s, for example, there was one mass shooting. And then a steep rise began. In the 1960s, there were six mass shootings. In the 1970s, the number rose to 13. In the 1980s, the number increased 2 1/2 times, to 32. And it rose again in the 1990s, to 42. As for this century, The New York Times reported in 2014 that, according to the FBI, “Mass shootings have risen drastically in the past half-dozen years.”

Given the same ubiquity of guns, wouldn’t the most productive question be what, if anything, has changed since the 1960s and ’70s? Of course it would. And a great deal has changed. America is much more ethnically diverse, much less religious. Boys have far fewer male role models in their lives. Fewer men marry, and normal boy behavior is largely held in contempt by their feminist teachers, principals and therapists. Do any or all of those factors matter more than the availability of guns?

Let’s briefly investigate each factor.

Regarding ethnic diversity, the countries that not only have the fewest mass murders but the lowest homicide rates as well are the least ethnically diverse—such as Japan and nearly all European countries. So, too, the American states that have homicide rates as low as Western European countries are the least ethnically and racially diverse (the four lowest are New Hampshire, North Dakota, Maine and Idaho). Now, America, being the most ethnically and racially diverse country in the world, could still have low homicide rates if a) Americans were Americanized, but the left has hyphenated—Balkanized, if you will—Americans, and b) most black males grew up with fathers.

Regarding religiosity, the left welcomes—indeed, seeks—the end of Christianity in America (though not of Islam, whose robustness it fosters). Why don’t we ask a simple question: What percentage of American murderers attend church each week?

Regarding boys’ need for fathers, in 2008, then-Sen. Obama told an audience: “Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools; and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.”

Yet, the Times has published columns and “studies” showing how relatively unimportant fathers are, and more and more educated women believe this dangerous nonsense.

Then there is marriage: Nearly all men who murder are single. And their number is increasing.

Finally, since the 1960s, we have been living in a culture of grievance. Whereas in the past people generally understood that life is hard and/or they have to work on themselves to improve their lives, for half a century, the left has drummed into Americans’ minds the belief that their difficulties are caused by American society—in particular, its sexism, racism and patriarchy. And the more aggrieved people are the more dulled their consciences.

When you don’t ask intelligent questions, you cannot come up with intelligent answers. So, then, with regard to murder in America, until Americans stop allowing the left to ask the questions, we will have no intelligent answers.

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America • Foreign Policy • Israel • Post • Religion and Society

The Hour of Avigdor

The connections between America and Israel are deep: grounded on religious cultural, and political ties that go well back before Israel’s founding.

What’s more, Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s whole political existence has been a decades-long struggle against globalist leaders and transnational institutions that aim to subvert national independence and democratic rule. The stability and success that Netanyahu has brought to Israel in the past 10 years are the foundation of the Trump Administration’s Middle East policy.

Netanyahu’s governance also provides an example that President Trump and his supporters know America should heed, at least when it comes to confident but reasonable self-assertion and immigration policy that puts fellow citizens first. Anything, therefore, that threatens the continuation of the populist conservative free-market-oriented Netanyahu government is both an omen and an obstacle for the populist conservative, market-oriented Trump Administration.

Yet Netanyahu now faces the most serious political crisis of his second premiership. Having seemingly won the April elections, Netanyahu has found himself without a governing coalition.

Though Israelis just went through a general election barely two months ago, they will head to the polls again on September 17. For the first time in 70 years and 21 elections, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, will have convened and been dissolved without any party having successfully formed a coalition.

Although 65 of the120 members elected in April supported Netanyahu to remain as prime minister, Netanyahu was nonetheless unable to get a majority coalition because of disagreement on what might seem from an American point of view to be an odd issue of principle: The parties that supported Netanyahu could not agree as to whether the wide exemption of young ultra-orthodox Jewish men from the draft should be enshrined in a law protected from judicial meddling.

The political impasse that has stymied Netanyahu was the product of many forces, but one person is key: Veteran Russian-Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman, who founded and has led the Yisrael Beiteinu party since 1999, refused to support an exemption law that would be acceptable to the ultra-orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism.

Under the shadow of Israeli leaders of world renown such as Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, Lieberman is little known outside Israel, though he has been foreign minister, defense minister, and deputy prime minister, and first entered the cabinet in 2001. He is also poorly understood inside Israel, labeled in the anti-Netanyahu media as more hawkish than Netanyahu, even though he favors a two-state solution and substantial territorial concessions to a Palestinian state.

Like Netanyahu and other nationalist politicians, Lieberman has been targeted repeatedly by the police and prosecutors acting in concert with the press (the Israeli version of the deep state), but the one time the charges were truly menacing, the process ended with a unanimous acquittal.

Lieberman got his start in politics, as did so many Israeli politicians of his generation, in student government. At the beginning of the 1980s he along with other future politicians founded the first successful discotheque in Jerusalem on the campus of the Hebrew University. While his friends were partying inside, Lieberman worked as the bouncer, filling the time waiting to expel the drunk and unruly by reading Nietzsche.

Lieberman subsequently held a sheaf of political jobs culminating in a short stint as director of the Prime Minister’s Office in Netanyahu’s first government. But after falling out with Netanyahu over the handling of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, Lieberman founded his own political party and has managed to win seats in the Knesset at every election since 1999.

After 20 years in elective office, it seems the hour of Avigdor has finally arrived, thanks also to the political ineptitude of Israel’s center and center-Left. Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz led his “Blue and White” bloc to 35 seats, tying Netanyahu’s Likud; but when Netanyahu was unable to close a coalition deal, Gantz proved utterly incapable of exploiting Netanyahu’s failure through backroom deals. A majority of the Knesset preferred to risk their seats in a new election, rather than see President Reuven Rivlin give Gantz the chance to form a government in Netanyahu’s stead.

In the April elections, Gantz united a crowd of centrist and center-Left Bibi-haters, but he offered no constructive policy alternative. Since the April votes were counted, Gantz has displayed no talent for political maneuvering. The consultants and the Israeli press successfully marketed him as the alternative to Netanyahu, but they will not be able to repeat the performance with the same success.

A few of Lieberman’s voters will punish him for his intransigence, but he will be more than rewarded by centrist voters from secular homes: Those voters are overwhelmingly veterans or the parents of veterans, and they do not see why ultra-orthodox boys should continue to be exempted when their boys serve.

Netanyahu can shore himself up to some extent on the right by demonizing Lieberman—the result will be to build up Lieberman as Netanyahu’s rival. Center-left voters would return in substantial numbers from Gantz to Labor, but for many Netanyahu-haters Lieberman is likely to stand out as the sensible alternative to the man they detest.

Can Lieberman be the not-Netanyahu fashion for fall as Gantz was for spring? It would shocking and novel for a politician with a thick Russian accent and a short and uneventful military service record to beat the generals. But despite two decades of centrist whining about the ultra-orthodox draft exemption, until Lieberman nobody has managed to transform those complaints into political action. Having failed to beat Netanyahu with Gantz the political amateur, the haters may be smart enough to try again with Lieberman the consummate professional.

Lieberman’s party won five seats in April, and he was able to bring about an unprecedented impasse. In the hour of Avigdor, the Israeli centrist voter may be willing to experiment with what he can do with 25.

What for Israel, America, and the world, heralds the hour of Avigdor? Israel’s greatest weakness is that Netanyahu, while seemingly indispensable, is politically mortal. Legal troubles, physical or mental exhaustion, or electoral defeat will eventually bring his career to a close.

Avigdor is not Bibi, in ways both good and bad. But if he can use the present crisis to enlarge his political base, he may be the best prospect for transition to a post-Netanyahu era in which the methods and policies that Netanyahu has used to make Israel greater are continued as far as possible. That would be a good sign for sensible American aspirations in the Middle East, as well as for the future of populist, market-oriented conservative politics in America and worldwide.

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Center for American Greatness • Post • Progressivism • Religion and Society • The Culture • The Left

Inverting the Wisdom of the Ages

They have called the people happy, that hath these things,” says the psalmist, thinking of tall sons and lovely daughters, great herds of sheep, fat oxen, and full granaries, “but happy is that people whose God is the Lord.”

We have inverted that wisdom, and placed a severe limit on the one item in that list of worldly blessings that bears intimations of eternity. We call those people happy who have the sheep, the oxen, the granaries, and sons and daughters, so long as there are not so many of the latter as to trouble your enjoyment of wealth; but miserable are those people whose God is the Lord.

That is because they must suffer under a theocracy, so the reasoning goes, and theocracies are wicked things. Let us tease this out a little.

In a theocracy, it is not simply the case that a people’s sense of the divine law informs their decisions as to the civil law. If such is the definition of theocracy, then Martin Luther King, Jr. was a theocrat when he invoked the prophet Amos, the theologians Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, and the reformer Luther to call his fellow Christian pastors to repentance for their racism. William Wilberforce was a theocrat when he placed before the eyes of his semi-Christian countrymen the glaring contradiction between loving your neighbor as yourself, and rounding up hundreds of your neighbors, naked and terrified, and shipping them across the ocean in a stinking and disease-ridden hull, to be sold at auction. Dorothy Day, by this definition, was a theocrat. Clara Barton was a theocrat. The leaders of the YMCA movement were theocrats. Every single social reformer who was inspired by the exalted moral teachings of the prophets, or of Jesus Christ, was a theocrat.

Of course, this is nonsense. Not one of those people worked for a civil government run by priests. But there are theocracies in the world today. They are Islamic, not Christian, and the law is engraved in Arabic upon the pillars of paradise, admitting of no translation, much less of interpretation.

The question for us in the non-Islamic West is not whether to set up priests and ministers as the de facto governors of the state. It is whether people are encouraged, or even permitted, to appeal to the law of God when they attempt to craft human laws that are just, and to persuade their fellow men that they are so. And here the cold steel probe strikes the nerve.

For if we are going to evaluate a supposed theocracy, must we not ask the obvious question, “What understanding of God do these people have?” The Canaanite theocracy is one thing, the Israelite another. It is one thing to make your children “pass through the fire to Moloch,” to guarantee good harvests in the coming year, or to avert a sag in your bank account. It is another thing to free all your slaves at the jubilee, because you, too, were once a slave in Egypt. It is one thing to farm out your daughters and your young sons to serve as temple prostitutes in the worship of Asherah. It is another thing to hear the tender but admonitory words of Jesus, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and hinder them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

And now we perceive the source of the fear. For people reveal their motives more clearly when their fears are unreasonable. If I am afraid of a charging bull, that says nothing about me; any man other than a toreador would be so. If I am afraid of an old lady with a rosary, praying in front of an abortion clinic, as Pennsylvania State Representative Brian Sims recently showed himself to be, as he showered her with exaggerated and unmanly abuse, that reveals a great deal.

He could have said, “Madam, I understand your concern for innocent human life, but I believe that in this matter you are deeply mistaken, and this is why.” Sister Joan Chittister, who charges pro-life Catholics with hypocrisy when they do not agree with her about what to do to assist the poor, might, instead of inveighing against them and giving aid to their many and powerful opponents, say, “My fellow Catholics, you are right about this, and I congratulate you, and am grateful for your efforts, but there is more at stake, and you are missing it.” But they do not speak this way.

Thomas Jefferson, no theocrat, took out his scissors and excised from the gospels every miracle that Jesus performed. The excisions should not surprise us. That he kept the gospels at all—that is the main thing. For Jefferson, never quite reliable in his morality, saw that the words of Jesus raised the eyes of man toward a moral vision that was more demanding, more fulfilling, purer, more merciful, and more just than any vision that man has ever had. It was a vision beside which Plato seemed a trader in vagaries, Seneca a trimmer, and Epictetus cold-hearted and aloof.

That moral vision is what strikes terror to the heart. And well it should. Nobody comes out looking good.

We must acknowledge, as Jefferson in his odd way also did, that although we may insist all day long that no one may judge another, even while we exceed in censoriousness our most malignant caricature of the Puritan, yet God judges us, and on our own we will be found wanting. That judgment does not come only after the trump of doom. It comes now; it is built into the human soul. Evil is its own first punisher.

But how to ignore that fact, or, if you will, the fear that such might be the case? You must exaggerate the political threat, in order to parry the existential and spiritual threat.

Somehow you know that you cannot really turn Jesus into a pom-pom girl for the empty promises of sexual liberation. You cannot really imagine Jesus picking apart the members of John the Baptist in his mother’s womb. That does not mean that everybody hears well when Jesus blesses the poor. We don’t hear well at all. The difference here is between people who are dull—that is, most of us who call ourselves Christian—and people who are shrieking, to drown out the voice of conscience.

Ye shall be as gods,” said the serpent. That is the apex upon which the whole inverted pyramid stands, trembling.

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Post • Religion and Society • Technology

A Scientist’s Week at the Vatican

Ten years ago this month, I had the experience of a lifetime. I was one of a small group of scholars from around the world who were convened by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences for a “study week.” Our subject was “Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development.” As directed by Pope Benedict XVI, its purpose was “to evaluate benefits and risks of genetic engineering [GE] and of other agricultural practices on the basis of present scientific knowledge and of its potential for applications to improve food security and human welfare worldwide in the context of a sustainable development.”

The week was beyond fascinating. At the initial session, we participants were greeted by a cardinal who had spent decades in Rome, most recently as the Vatican’s official theologian. He was exceedingly warm and charming, and stressed the importance of technological advances to the poorest and most vulnerable populations. When I googled him, I had a shock: His most recent academic paper had been the introductory chapter in a book on exorcism. Clearly, I was outside my customary science-suffused bubble!

One evening toward to the end of the week, my girlfriend and I ventured outside the Vatican walls for dinner (we were housed—in separate single rooms—in the dormitory-like residence where cardinals and other visiting dignitaries stay). When we returned, we found that the gate through which we had exited was locked. We walked for a long way around the perimeter of the Vatican’s walls, looking for an open gate, and finally encountered a priest who offered to take us to the appropriate entrance. (It turned out that he was a bishop and the head of Catholic Charities worldwide.) When we arrived at our destination, I thanked him and apologized for the detour. He smiled and said, “You’re most welcome, my son; it’s a privilege to assist a pilgrim who has lost his way.” I felt like a bit-player in one of those old films in which Spencer Tracy and Bing Crosby played priests.

The result of the conference was, especially for the time, a rare, constructive melding of science, technology, religion, and humanistic principles. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences’ summary document included these salient conclusions (quoted verbatim):

  • GE [genetic engineering] technology, used appropriately and responsibly, can in many circumstances make essential contributions to agricultural productivity by crop improvement, including enhancing crop yields and nutritional quality, and increasing resistance to pests, as well as improving tolerance to drought and other forms of environmental stress. These improvements are needed around the world to help improve the sustainability and productivity of agriculture.
  • The genetic improvement of crop and ornamental plants represents a long and seamless continuum of progressively more precise and predictable techniques. As the U.S. National Research Council concluded in a 1989 report: “As the molecular methods are more specific, users of these methods will be more certain about the traits they introduce into the plants and hence less liable to produce untoward effects than other methods of plant breeding.”
  • They also can be of major significance for resource-poor farmers and vulnerable members of poor farming communities, especially women and children. Insect-resistant GE cotton and maize, in particular, have greatly reduced insecticide use (and hence enhanced farm safety) and contributed to substantially higher yields, higher household income and lower poverty rates (and also fewer poisonings with chemical pesticides).
  • The introduction of resistance to environmentally benign, inexpensive herbicides in maize, soybean, canola, and other crops is the most widely used GE trait. It has increased yields per hectare, replaced back-breaking manual weeding, and has facilitated lower input resulting in minimum tillage (no till) techniques that have lowered the rate of soil erosion.
  • GE technology can combat nutritional deficiencies through modification that provides essential micro-nutrients. For example, studies of provitamin A-biofortified “Golden Rice” have shown that standard daily diets containing this biofortified rice would be sufficient to prevent vitamin A deficiency.
  • The application of GE technology to insect resistance has led to a reduction in the use of chemical insecticides, lowering the cost of some agricultural inputs and improving the health of agricultural workers.
  • GE technology has already raised crop yields of poor farmers and there is evidence of its generating increased income and employment that would not otherwise have taken place.
  • Costly regulatory oversight of GE technology needs to become scientifically defensible and risk-based. This means that regulation should be based upon the particular traits of a new plant variety rather than the technological means used to produce it. Risk assessments must consider not only the potential risks of the use of a new plant variety, but also the risks of alternatives if that particular variety is not made available.
  • Given these scientific findings, there is a moral imperative to make the benefits of GE technology available on a larger scale to poor and vulnerable populations who want them and on terms that will enable them to raise their standards of living, improve their health and protect their environments.

The recommendations in the Pontifical Academy’s summary statement were equally constructive and important. For example, policymakers worldwide should, “[s]tandardize—and rationalize—the principles involved in the evaluation and approval of new crop varieties (whether produced by so-called conventional, marker assisted breeding, or GE technologies) universally so that they are scientific, risk-based, predictable and transparent.”

The recommendations further clarified, “It is critical that the scope of what is subject to case-by-case review is as important as the actual review itself; it must also be scientific and risk-based.”

If those conclusions and recommendation had been incorporated into public policy over the past decade by legislators and regulators around the world, the contributions of genetic engineering to agriculture, especially in poorer countries, would have been far greater.

That would have been a miracle.

Photo Credit: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump • Podcast • Religion and Society • The Culture • The Left

‘Who Do the Democrats Think They Are, Judging Christians?’

Chris Buskirk of American Greatness joins Sebastian Gorka to discuss the moral lecturing of anti-Trumpers against Christians. Watch the fill clip below.
Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Donald Trump • Post • Religion and Society • Republicans

Yes, Christians Can Support Trump Without Risk to Their Witness

Can an adulterer be a great surgeon? If your child needed care and the best surgeon had cheated on his wife, maybe more than once, would you let him operate? What if you are a Christian and he is not? Does that matter? Should it?

In the secular realm of everyday life—the life that takes place outside the church in which believers and unbelievers interact, mostly happily, mostly without even noticing (or often having any way of knowing) the difference—those questions should answer themselves.

Of course, an adulterer can be a great surgeon. And a superbly ethical, thoroughly decent person may be a professional mediocrity—or worse. That’s life.

There are innumerable examples of people who are wonderful but unaccomplished just as there are many notable examples of people with serious personal failings who nonetheless have excelled in other parts of their lives: artists, scientists, parents, and even politicians.

And yes, I’m not so subtly making a point about President Trump. His private failings have been made very public prompting some Christian pundits to say that not only do those failings disqualify Trump from office, but they are so egregious as to make supporting him sinful for Christians.

That’s the essential position of people like David and Nancy French, who last month wrote companion columns on the subject that they published on the same day—one in National Review and the other in the Washington Post. Mrs. French’s column’s pulls double duty: it’s a hagiographic depiction of Mitt Romney in which she also devotes substantial effort to defaming the Huckabee clan—Governor Mike and his daughter, Sarah, the president’s unflappable press secretary—while Mr. French uses his column to accuse Franklin Graham of a “willingness to abandon Christian principles when it’s politically expedient” and who he claims “illustrates the collapsing evangelical public witness.”

Of course, the same accusation is being leveled, sotto voce, against all the other naughty Christians who support Trump, too.

It should be obvious that support for a political candidate does not mean a blanket endorsement of every aspect that candidate’s life. It is merely an endorsement of that person’s policies and an assessment of his ability to perform in office. What’s more, it’s often not even a blanket endorsement of that, it’s a practical decision that Candidate A, while imperfect, is preferable to Candidate B. And support for Candidate A, barring some major breach of public trust or endorsement of public evil, does not reflect one way or another on one’s public witness.

But this sort of confusion is what results when one conflates the mission of the church (primarily the public worship of God, the administration of the sacraments, and the fellowship of believers) with secular politics. They are simply not the same and Christians are permitted substantial liberty of conscience in these matters.

There is, for example, no clear “Christian position” on whether the marginal tax rate should be 15 percent or 50 percent. Arguments based on God-given reason and practical wisdom can be made for both tax rates. I know which I believe is better policy for reasons that are consistent with Christian ethics (hint: it’s the lower one) but I would certainly not argue that someone who believes in a higher tax rate is, per se, undermining their “public witness” for Christ.

Why, then, do the Frenches insist on attacking Christians who support Trump not on a rational, political basis, but on the basis that their support for Trump implicates their faith and undermines their witness?

Understand what they are saying: if a Christian acts in a way that undermines his witness for Christ, he is in sin. And in the case of the Huckabees and Franklin Graham, it would be very public sin given their high profiles. This is a serious charge that David French does not take the time to substantiate.

He claims that Graham abandoned “Christian principles,” but what principles does he claim were abandoned? He doesn’t say, so one can only infer. I suspect the Frenches don’t think Donald Trump is very nice. He’s loud, he’s aggressive, and he attacks his political enemies. They oppose his policies too—both are on the record as war hawks who believe in an aggressive American military posture abroad, both believe in mass immigration of the Paul Ryan variety, and both seem content to follow like a shadow behind liberalism’s relentless march—never objecting very much to the direction, just the pace.

But mostly it seems to be about taste: Trump is brash and politically heterodox politically, while the Frenches are defenders of the status quo. Fine—but why try and theologize it? Why try and wrap a legitimate (if wrongheaded) personal political preference in Christianity? Perhaps they think it makes them appear stronger—more moral, less self-interested? In fact, it does just the opposite. It belies an underlying weakness. Worse, it misuses the Gospel.

The question is, by what standard should a Christian judge a candidate or an officeholder? Part of the answer is that the Christian and non-Christian ought to judge in the same way: what can the candidate do to protect the peace and prosperity of the nation and its citizens? Christians would add that they require political leaders that will protect the right of the Church to worship freely and its members to practice their faith in peace.

So, are Christians prohibited from supporting Trump for president because of his multiple divorces, his apparent infidelity, or his trademark braggadocio? In a word, no. There is simply no biblical support for this. If personal sin were disqualifying, who could lead? Christians in particular, for whom recognition of indwelling sin is both a predicate and a sustainer of faith, should know this.

I suspect what the Frenches really want is a prophet, a priest, and a king to rule in this secular age, a political leader in which they can invest their highest hopes. But in doing so, they are placing upon liberal politics a weight it cannot hope to carry and are headed for disappointment.

The good news is, if they want a prophet, a priest, and a king, they already have one . . . in Christ.

This is a common problem in American evangelicalism. Too often it forsakes true religion for a moralistic therapeutic deism. The prigs and scolds replace the Gospel with idealistic rhetoric and aggressive social and political agendas. That’s why the spirituality of the church must be defended. Preaching a social gospel and a political agenda necessarily denigrates the gospel of Christ even though it is often sold as a consequence of and not a replacement for the true gospel.

It is, what J. Gresham Machen, a theologian at Princeton and then Westminster Theological Seminaries in the early 20th century called, “the type of religion which rejoices in the pious sound of traditional phrases.”

The Frenches and others wrap themselves in just such pious, Christianist rhetorical flourishes and scriptural references. But by conflating the role of the secular and the sacred, by attempting to immanentize the world which is to come, they misrepresent orthodox Christian teaching about the role of Church and the practice of secular politics to the detriment of both.

Instead of demonstrating that only those with the highest personal ethics can lead, the Bible is full of examples of craven, ruthless, merciless sinners successfully leading their nations. Yet God chose to use them.

Was David disqualified from leading Israel because he murdered Uriah in order to take Bathsheba as his wife? Certainly not. In the Psalms, he is called the apple of God’s eye.

Did Joseph undermine his public witness as a prophet of God by serving Pharaoh even as he held the Israelites in captivity? What about Daniel, who served the fantastically pagan Nebuchadnezzar? Or Esther, who married the murderous, libertine emperor Xerxes? Again, the answer is plainly no.

So why do Trump supporters come in for such scorn? Are Trump’s sins greater than any of these? Are they greater than those of many other presidents? Without resorting to Clinton references, shall we recall George H. W. Bush’s or Lyndon Johnson’s or FDR’s reported adultery? How about John F. Kennedy’s serial adulteries in the White House? Warren Harding’s love child?

Nor does Mr. French apply his apparent standard evenly or, frankly, to anyone other than Trump supporters. He long used a portrait of John Calvin, the great theologian of the Reformation, as his Twitter profile picture. But Calvin dedicated his largest and most influential theological work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, to King Francis I of France whom he calls “His Most Christian Majesty” in accordance with the custom of the day.

Unsurprisingly, Francis, like many monarchs, had a casual relationship with the Seventh Commandment (or the Sixth, according to the Roman Catholic numbering) and kept a series of mistresses. (One was apparently Mary Boleyn, future mistress of Henry VIII and sister of Anne Boleyn.) Why would Calvin dedicate his masterwork to an adulterer? Did this cause Calvin’s public witness to collapse? Is his theological work now tainted? It would take a peculiarly scolding, fundamentalist theology to think so. But if Calvin, like David, Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and so on, are not tainted, then why is Franklin Graham, and not just Graham, but every other Trump supporter that French accuses by implication?

Perhaps Calvin knew something about Christianity that escapes the moralizers and fundamentalists. The work of the church is not politics. As Lane Tipton, professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary says, the church is an eschatological intrusion of the world that is to come into the world that now is. Put a little more simply, the Christian church is the present instantiation of Christ’s kingdom in this passing world. And it is the job of the Church to preach the gospel, administer the sacraments, offer true worship to the Creator, and encourage the fellowship of God’s people.

Nancy French apparently shares her husband’s conviction that not only is Orange Man Bad, so are the Orange Man’s supporters—and especially the Christians.

In her column, she refers to Isaiah 5:20, declaring, “If evangelical leaders really demanded Christian values in their president, they’d stop calling evil good and good evil.” She uses an interesting phrase which gives an insight into her (and perhaps her husband’s) approach to politics. When she refers to evangelicals (Catholics, I guess, are off the hook) demanding Christian values in the president she says that she believes Christians should vote for the person they believe the candidate is, rather than for what he will do. Her piece also suggests that she tilts the scales heavily in favor of a particular standard of personal decorum and heavily against sexual sin.

But why sexual sin should be weighted more heavily than, say, failure to keep the Sabbath or idolatry, is left unexplained. And more important in the political context, voters have both a right and an affirmative obligation to prioritize public virtue. And that’s exactly the calculation that Christian Trump voters made in 2016 and are almost certain to make again in 2020.

What’s worse is that taking that single verse out of its redemptive historical context and dragooning it into secular political service misses the depth, the beauty, and the unmerited grace about which Isaiah was writing. Instead, it points to the sort of religion that rejoices in pious-sounding phrases, regardless of their meaning, that Machen warned against. It’s dangerous because it leads the reader towards moralism and self-sufficiency and away from the redemption offered by the Gospel to which Isaiah was pointing. Using gratuitous, out-of-context quotes from the Bible to support one’s preferred political program is an abuse of scripture. Scripture, is a revelation of God’s eternal plan of redemption first and foremost, not a political platform.

Whether or not this is a willful mischaracterization of scripture, I don’t know. I hope not. But what evangelical leaders and many millions of other Americans have called good about Donald Trump are his public policies, not his private failings. Instead, the Frenches would insist on someone who appears personally gracious but whose public policies many people believe have failed and harmed the nation. Romney is the example Nancy French used and I’ll stick with it.

Senator Romney may have refined public manners, but in his political life he has supported all of the failed policies that have hollowed out the middle and working class and undermined the unity and trust that hold our nation together: mass immigration for cheap labor, forever war abroad in pursuit of “ideals” rather than interests, and deference to political, economic, and media/academic elites at the expense of American citizens. And let’s not forget that as governor of Massachusetts he was the author of that state’s healthcare system that became the model for Obamacare. As a presidential candidate in 2012, he was weak and ineffectual, letting Barack Obama walk all over him and run away with the race. But vote for him because he’s polite and he doesn’t curse! Voters, many of them Christians, decided that the time for beautiful losers is over.

But all of this raises the question: Is pursuing policies that protect and promote the interests of the American people good or evil? If it is good, then the question is should Christians—any voters, really—prioritize public goods or the private sins when choosing leaders? Most people probably would give the common sense answer that the private sin would have to be particularly egregious to disqualify someone from public life if they believed he would otherwise do good for them and the nation. To do otherwise reflects a particularly fussy immaturity about politics.

We should remember that Churchill was a profligate spender and profoundly immodest, but also a great statesman who saved the West. Henry VIII was impetuous, vengeful, and adulterous. He was also a great king who secured England’s finances and her role as a great European power.

Even great churchmen had their failings. Martin Luther was the brilliant expositor of the role of faith and grace in the Christian life, but he was sometimes intemperate in his polemics in ways that make Donald Trump look positively prim. Do these shortcomings undermine their work? Or do they just tell us that people are complicated and tarnished by indwelling sin?

For Christians, David Van Drunen, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary offers this advice:

Speaking of Christian political activity can also be misleading since Scripture only speaks at a general level about civil government and political responsibilities . . . Scripture says nothing specifically about the concrete decisions that Christians must make about voting, party affiliation, details of public policy, or political strategy. These are decisions of moral gravity, but they are not decisions that one Christian can impose upon the conscience of another Christian. Where Scripture is silent, there is no single Christian position. Each believer must seek to apply, with wisdom, biblical teaching that is relevant to political decisions. Certain political actions are clearly inconsistent with faith, but many possible approaches to voting, supporting parties, forming public policy, and political strategizing are potentially consistent with the Christian faith. In these areas believers enjoy Christian liberty—and responsibility—to exercise their wisdom in “seek(ing) the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile . . .” (Jer: 29:7)

We would do well not to invest too much hope for secular, let alone spiritual, salvation in political leaders. Some, once in a great while, are truly great, but even those we esteem fall short. Both spiritual and political maturity recognizes this and adjusts expectations accordingly. It understands the failings and complexities of human life and then makes a decision and attempts to build a world that both accounts for them and maximizes their potential both for beauty and virtue. Expecting too much from political leaders who are themselves weak vessels will lead to bad decisions, disillusionment, and then disaster.

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America • Cultural Marxism • Post • Progressivism • Religion and Society • The Culture • The Left

Why the Left Mocks the Bible

At PragerU, we have released about 400 videos on virtually every subject outside of the natural sciences and math. Along with 2 billion views, the videos have garnered tens of thousands of comments. So we have a pretty good handle on what people most love and most hate. For example, any video defending America or Israel inevitably receives many negative responses. But no videos elicit the amount of contempt and mockery that videos defending religion, explaining the Bible or arguing for God do.

Why is that?

There is a good reason. The Bible and the left (not liberalism, leftism) are as opposed as any two worldviews can be. While there are people who claim to hold both a Bible-based worldview and left-wing views, these people are few in number. Moreover, what they do is take left-wing positions and wrap them in a few Bible verses. But on virtually every important value in life, the left and the Bible are diametrically opposed.

Here are a few examples:

The biblical view is that people are not basically good. Evil, therefore, comes from within human nature. For the left, human nature is not the source of evil. Capitalism, patriarchy, poverty, religion, nationalism or some other external cause is the source of evil.

The biblical view is that nature was created for man. The left-wing view is that man is just another part of nature.

The biblical view is that man is created in the image of God and, therefore, formed with a transcendent, immaterial soul. The left-wing viewindeed, the view of all secular ideologiesis that man is purely material, another assemblage of stellar dust.

The biblical view is that the human being has free will. The left-wing viewagain, the view of all secular outlooksis that human beings have no free will. Everything we do is determined by environment, genes and the matter of which we are composed. Firing neurons, not free will, explain both murders and kindness.

The biblical view is that while reason alone can lead a person to conclude murder is wrong, murder is ultimately and objectively wrong only because there is a transcendent source of right and wrongGodwho deems murder evil.

The biblical view is that God made order out of chaos. Order is defined by distinctions. One such example is male and femalethe only inherent human distinction that matters to God. There are no racial or ethnic distinctions in God’s order; there is only the human sex distinction. The left loathes this concept of a divine order. That is the primary driver of its current attempt to obliterate the male-female distinction.

The biblical view is that the nuclear family is the basic unit of societya married father and mother and their children. This is the biblical ideal. All good people of faith recognize that the reality of this world is such that many people do not or cannot live that ideal. And such people often merit our support. But that does not change the fact that the nuclear family is the one best-suited to create thriving individuals and a healthy society, and we who take the Bible seriously must continue to advocate the ideal family structure as the Bible defines it. And for that, perhaps more than anything, we are mocked.

The biblical view holds that wisdom begins with acknowledging God. The secular view is that God is unnecessary for wisdom, and the left-wing view is that God is destructive to wisdom. But if you want to know which view is more accurate, look at the most godless and Bible-less institution in our society: the universities. They are, without competition, the most foolish institutions in our society.

For nearly all of American history, the Bible was the most important book in America. It is no longer. This is a moral and intellectual catastrophe. If you want to understand why, consider reading “The Rational Bible,” my commentary on the first five books of the Bible. The second volume of “The Rational Bible,” “Genesis,” is published today.

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America • Big Media • civic culture/friendship • Cultural Marxism • Donald Trump • Identity Politics • Israel • Post • Religion and Society

Why Most Jews Aren’t Bothered by the Times’ Anti-Semitic Cartoon

Last week, The New York Times published a cartoon so anti-Semitic that Bret Stephens wrote in his Times column that it was “an image that, in another age, might have been published in the pages of Der Stürmer.” Der Stürmer was the Nazis’ major anti-Semitic newspaper.

A Times columnist charging the Times with publishing a Nazi-like cartoon is quite a moment in American publishing history.

For those who haven’t seen the cartoon, here is Stephens’ description:

The Jew in the form of a dog. The small but wily Jew leading the dumb and trusting American. The hated Trump being Judaized with a skullcap. The nominal servant acting as the true master. The cartoon checked so many anti-Semitic boxes that the only thing missing was a dollar sign.

The dog leading Trump had the face of Benjamin Netanyahu and was wearing a Star of David necklace. Trump was wearing a back yarmulke.

For those naifs and Israel-haters who dismiss such depictions as merely “anti-Zionist” or “anti-Israel” but not anti-Semitic, the yarmulke on Trump’s head should be the giveaway, as should the theme itself—the Jew leading the Gentile astray, one of the oldest anti-Semitic canards.

Of course, the cartoon is not just about Israel or Jews. It is about Trump, whom the Left so hates. It depicts him as the stooge of both Vladimir Putin and Netanyahu. There is no truth to either depiction, but if truth mattered to the Left, there would be no Left. Truth is a liberal value, and it is a conservative value, but it is not a leftist value. Truth to the Left is pravda. Pravda, the Russian word for “truth,” was also the name of the Soviet Communist Party newspaper.

So, the question is: Why would the New York Times, published in the city where more Jews live than any other city in the world outside of Israel, whose publisher is a Jew and whose editors are disproportionately Jewish, publish a Nazi-like anti-Semitic cartoon?

Here is Stephens’ answer:

For some Times readers—or, as often, former readers—the answer is clear: The Times has a longstanding Jewish problem, dating back to World War II, when it mostly buried news about the Holocaust, and continuing into the present day in the form of intensely adversarial coverage of Israel. The criticism goes double when it comes to the editorial pages, whose overall approach toward the Jewish state tends to range, with some notable exceptions, from tut-tutting disappointment to thunderous condemnation.

For these readers, the cartoon would have come like the slip of the tongue that reveals the deeper institutional prejudice. What was long suspected is, at last, revealed.

Stephens continues:

How have even the most blatant expressions of anti-Semitism become almost undetectable to editors who think it’s part of their job to stand up to bigotry?

The reason is the almost torrential criticism of Israel and the mainstreaming of anti-Zionism, including by this paper, which has become so common that people have been desensitized to its inherent bigotry. So long as anti-Semitic arguments or images are framed, however speciously, as commentary about Israel, there will be a tendency to view them as a form of political opinion, not ethnic prejudice. But as I noted in a Sunday Review essay in February, anti-Zionism is all but indistinguishable from anti-Semitism in practice and often in intent, however much progressives try to deny this.

Exactly right. As I wrote in Why the Jews? The Reason for Anti-Semitism 40 years before Stephens wrote his column, there is no difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Of course, one can criticize Israel, just as one can criticize any country, but that is not anti-Zionism. Anti-Zionism is not criticism of Israel. It is a hatred of Israel—a hatred greater than that of any other country and a delegitimization of Zionism, the movement to reestablish the Jewish national home. Imagine someone who argued that the establishment of the Italian state—Italy—was illegitimate and who hated Italy more than any other country in the world yet claimed that he was in no way anti-Italian, as he had Italian friends and loved Italian culture. No one would believe such an absurdity.

Why aren’t most American Jews troubled by the Times’ cartoon? Why were all American Jews horrified by the anti-Semitic shootings at the California synagogue this past weekend, while most barely had their feathers ruffled by the anti-Semitic cartoon in one of the most influential media in America?

The answer is most American Jews, while ethnically Jewish, are ethically leftist. And ethics trump ethnicity—as they should. For most American Jews, therefore, the Times is far more consonant with their ethical values than are Jewish values (if, by Jewish values, we are talking about the Torah and traditional Jewish religious/moral teachings). So, then, when you combine hatred of the right-wing prime minister of Israel and reverence for the left-wing Times, even a Nazi-like cartoon—if it negatively depicts Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump and is published in the New York Times—is no big deal.

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Big Media • Democrats • Hillary Clinton • Obama • Post • Religion and Society • Religion of Peace • The Culture • The Left

Why Hillary and Obama Tweeted About ‘Easter Worshippers’

Sometimes, a few sentences tell you more about a person—and, more importantly, an ideology—than a learned thesis. That is the case with tweets from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in response to the mass murder of more than 300 Christians and others in Sri Lanka.

Their tweets are worth serious analysis because they reveal a great deal about the Left. Of course, they reveal a great deal about Clinton and Obama, too, but that doesn’t interest me.

And that, too, is important. Many Americans—especially conservatives and “independents”—are more interested in individual politicians than in political ideologies.

Many conservatives have long been fixated on Clinton—so much so that probably any other Democrat would have defeated Donald Trump, as conservative anger specifically toward her propelled many people to the polls. Similarly, Republican NeverTrumpers are fixated on Trump rather than policy. They care more about Trump’s personal flaws than about the mortal dangers the Left poses to America and the West or about the uniquely successful conservative policies Trump promulgates.

And independents all claim to vote “for the person, not the party.”

Only leftists understand that one must vote left no matter who the Democrat is, no matter who the Republican opponent is. Leftists are completely interchangeable: There is no ideological difference among the 20 or so Democrats running for president. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is not one degree to the right of Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren.

That is why it is important to understand Clinton and Obama’s tweets: to understand the left, not to understand her or him.

Here are the tweets:

Obama: “The attacks on tourists and Easter worshippers in Sri Lanka are an attack on humanity. On a day devoted to love, redemption, and renewal, we pray for the victims and stand with the people of Sri Lanka.”

Three hours later, Clinton tweeted: “On this holy weekend for many faiths, we must stand united against hatred and violence. I’m praying for everyone affected by today’s horrific attacks on Easter worshippers and travelers in Sri Lanka.”

As they both spelled “worshipers” the same idiosyncratic way and used the term “Easter worshippers,” it is likely they either had the same writers or Clinton copied Obama.

Here’s what’s critical: Neither used the word “Christians.” And in order to avoid doing so, they went so far as to make up a new term—”Easter worshippers”—heretofore unknown to any Christian.

When Jews were murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Clinton mentioned the synagogue in a tweet. But in her post-Sri Lanka tweet, despite the bombing of three churches filled with Christians, Clinton made no mention of church or churches. In a tweet after the massacre of Muslims in New Zealand, she wrote that her heart broke for “the global Muslim community.” But in her latest tweet, not a word about Christians or the global Christian community.

Obama similarly wrote in his tweet about New Zealand that he was grieving with “the Muslim community” over the “horrible massacre in the Mosques.” But in his tweet about Sri Lanka, there is no mention of Christians or churches.

The reason neither of them mentioned Christians or churches is that the left has essentially forbidden mention of all the anti-Christian murders perpetrated by Muslims in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa and of all the Muslim desecration of churches in Europe, Africa and anywhere else. This is part of the same phenomenon—that I and others have documented—of British police and politicians covering up six years of rape of 1,400 of English girls by Muslim “grooming gangs” in Rotherham and elsewhere in England.

Essentially, the left’s rule is that nothing bad—no matter how true—may be said about Muslims or Islam and nothing good—no matter how true—may be said of Christians or Christianity.

Clinton’s post-New Zealand tweet also included these words: “We must continue to fight the perpetuation and normalization of Islamophobia and racism in all its forms. White supremacist terrorists must be condemned by leaders everywhere. Their murderous hatred must be stopped.”

She made sure to condemn “Islamophobia,” but she wrote not a word about the far more destructive and widespread hatred of Christians in the Muslim world, seen in Muslims’ virtual elimination of the Christian communities in the Middle East, the regular murder and kidnappings of Coptic Christians in Egypt and the murder of Christians in Nigeria. She calls on “leaders everywhere” to condemn “white supremacist terrorists,” one of the smallest hate groups on Earth, but never calls on leaders everywhere to condemn Islamist terrorists, the largest hate group on Earth.

These two tweets tell you a lot about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But far more importantly, they tell you a lot about the Left.

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Cultural Marxism • Democrats • Identity Politics • Post • Progressivism • Religion and Society • The Left

Pete Buttigieg and the Left’s False Piety

When South Bend, Indiana Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg accused Vice President Mike Pence of having a problem with his sexual orientation, the openly gay Episcopalian was employing a tired, but increasingly common, progressive sleight of hand.

“If you have a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me—your quarrel, sir, is with my creator,” Buttigieg said.

This was a political stunt steeped in prejudice against Pence’s religious beliefs. Of course, not only has Pence not attacked Buttigieg, but it would seem he has had nothing but nice things to say about him.

Buttigieg’s “gotcha” exemplifies a common strategy of on the Left to shame others into accepting their ideas. Leftists, while loudly championing infanticide, have taken to co-opting a religion they don’t actually believe in to push their own agenda.

Buttigieg’s message is predictable and banal, but it’s the kind of thing that impresses progressives who find TED talks edifying and consult “the data” to settle moral questions: Pence and all evangelicals who support Trump are hypocrites. If they were real Christians, they’d follow the Left’s interpretation of the Gospel, which is really just secular liberalism in faux-Christian garb.

One sees this rhetoric particularly with open borders. As the immigration crisis has unfolded, liberals have taken to pointing out the hypocrisy of Christians who believe in immigration restrictions, citing the Bible’s message of compassion for the persecuted.

While most progressives are content with selectively quoting a book they don’t read or believe in, some, like Buttigieg, take it much further, claiming to profess faith while accusing others of hypocrisy for not sharing their Woke, pseudo-religious beliefs.

In a stop at a progressive chapel, Buttigieg continued to bully Pence on Ellen Degeneres’s show. “I don’t have a problem with religion. I’m religious, too,” he said. “But if he wanted to clear this up, he could come out today and say he’s changed his mind” on gay marriage.

Buttigieg called Pence’s beliefs “bad policy.” To Buttigieg, it would seem, morals and “policy” occupy two different worlds. In Buttigieg’s trendy, non-committal, neoliberal moral universe, policy and morality should be kept strictly separate. He’s “religious too,” but morals have no place in government and society—unless, of course, they’re progressive.

Pence, Buttigieg says, is not a good Christian because he is intolerant of gay marriage and supports a “porn star” president. Buttigieg effectively accused Pence of blaspheming God by making an idol of the president, even asking at a CNN town hall whether Pence “stopped believing in Scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump.”

But what does Buttigieg make of abortion? The “openly pro-choice” Buttigieg thinks abortion is an “unknowable” moral question that will “never be settled by science.”

Who stopped believing in Scripture exactly? When he referred to “my creator,” did he mean Moloch?

To pious folks like Pete Buttigieg, Christianity has become indistinguishable from the cult of Woke. The Bible’s message of tolerance and love becomes the equivalent of the reigning moral and cultural relativism buttressed by Jesus talk.

For Buttigieg, abortion is okay, but supporting a man like Trump because he opposes abortion is a moral outrage. Buttigieg is blinded by the “unbelievable hypocrisy” of Christians who accept a president so impious and worldly. They have been led astray by a president who is “pretending to be pro-life” from the Bible’s core message, which is “about lifting up the least among us and taking care of strangers, which is another word for immigrants.” If they were real Christians, he says, they’d open the border and stop fighting abortion.

Buttigieg seems to see the Bible as a supporting document for his progressive beliefs. To Buttigieg, Scripture is indistinguishable from progressivism’s agenda to give marginalized groups “more visibility in the public sphere.” Christianity is really about tolerance of all peoples, cultures, and lifestyles.

The Christian injunction to withhold judgment is interpreted as extreme permissiveness toward sin, even the sin of infanticide. It’s not Buttigieg’s place to judge, he says: leave the moral decision-making up to mother and abortionist, not “a male government official imposing his interpretation of his religion.”

While America has taken a marked turn toward secular liberalism, there is clearly still some lingering pressure for politicians who think killing infants is permissible to show a token belief in morals and the nation’s religious heritage. Hence Buttigieg.

Take it from the left: True Christianity is liberalism. The rest is heresy.

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Defense of the West • Europe • Post • Religion and Society • Religion of Peace

The Burning of Notre Dame and the Destruction of Christian Europe

The fire that destroyed much of the Notre Dame Cathedral in the heart of Paris is a tragedy that is irreparable. Even if the cathedral is rebuilt, it will never be what it was before. Stained glass windows and major architectural elements have been severely damaged and the oak frame totally destroyed. The spire that rose from the cathedral was a unique piece of art. It was drawn by the architect who restored the edifice in the nineteenth century, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who had based his work on 12th century documents.

In addition to the fire, the water needed to extinguish the flames penetrated the limestone of the walls and façade, and weakened them, making them brittle. The roof is non-existent: the nave, the transept and the choir now lie in open air, vulnerable to bad weather. They cannot even be protected until the structure has been examined thoroughly, a task that will take weeks. Three major elements of the structure (the north transept pinion, the pinion located between the two towers and the vault) are also on the verge of collapse.

Notre Dame is more than 800 years old. It survived the turbulence of the Middle Ages, the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution, two World Wars and the Nazi occupation of Paris. It did not survive what France is becoming in the 21st century.

The cause of the fire has so far been attributed to “an accident,” “a short circuit,” and most recently “a computer glitch.”

If the fire really was an accident, it is almost impossible to explain how it started. Benjamin Mouton, Notre Dame’s former chief architect, explained that the rules were exceptionally strict and that no electric cable or appliance, and no source of heat, could be placed in the attic. He added that an extremely sophisticated alarm system was in place. The company that installed the scaffolding did not use any welding and specialized in this type of work. The fire broke out more than an hour after the workers’ departure and none of them was present. It spread so quickly that the firefighters who rushed to the spot as soon as they could get there were shocked. Remi Fromont, the chief architect of the French Historical Monuments said: “The fire could not start from any element present where it started. A real calorific load is necessary to launch such a disaster”.

A long, difficult and complex investigation will be conducted.

The possibility that the fire was the result of arson cannot be dismissed. Barely an hour after the flames began to rise above Notre Dameat a time when no explanation could be provided by anyonethe French authorities rushed to say that the fire was an “accident” and that “arson has been ruled out.” The remarks sounded like all the official statements made by the French government after attacks in France during the last decade.

In November 2015, on the night of the massacre at the Bataclan Theater in Paris, in which jihadists murdered 90 people, the French Department of the Interior said that the government did not know anything, except that a gunfight had occurred. The truth came out only after ISIS claimed responsibility for the slaughter.

In Nice, after the truck-attack in July 2016, the French government insisted for several days that the terrorist who crushed 86 people to death was a “man with a nervous breakdown“.

In 2018, Sarah Halimi’s murderer, who recited verses from the Quran while torturing his victim, was declared “mentally disturbed” and held in a psychiatric institution immediately after his arrest. He will most likely never face a court. On April 8, Alain Finkielkraut and 38 other intellectuals published a text saying that her murderer must not escape justice. The text had no effect.

The fire at Notre Dame took place less than three years after a “commando unit” of jihadi women, later arrested, tried to destroy the cathedral by detonating cylinders of natural gas. Three days before last week’s fire, on April 12, the leader of the jihadis, Ines Madani, a young French convert to Islam, was sentenced to eight years in prison for creating a terrorist group affiliated with the Islamic State.

The Notre Dame fire also occurred at a time when attacks against churches in France and Europe have been multiplying. More than 800 churches were attacked in France during the year 2018 alone. Many suffered serious damage: broken, beheaded statues, smashed tabernacles, feces thrown on the walls. In several churches, fires were lit. On March 5, the Basilica of St. Denis, where all but three of the Kings of France are buried, was vandalized by a Pakistani refugee. Several stained-glass windows were broken, and the basilica’s organ, a national treasure built between 1834 and 1841, was nearly wrecked. Twelve days later, on March 17, a fire broke out at Saint Sulpice, the largest church in Paris, causing serious damage. After days of silence, the police finally admitted that the cause had been arson.

For months, jihadist organizations have been issuing statements calling for the destruction of churches and Christian monuments in Europe. Notre Dame was repeatedly named as a primary target. Despite all that, the Cathedral was not adequately protected. A couple of young men, who entered the Cathedral at night, climbed on the roof last November and shot a video that they then put on YouTube.

Many messages were posted by people with Muslim names on social mediaTwitter, Facebook, the website of Al Jazeeraexpressing a joy to see an important Christian symbol destroyed. Hafsa Askar, a migrant from Morocco and the vice president of the National Union of Students of France (UNEF), the main student organization in France, published a tweet saying, “People are crying on little pieces of wood… it’s a delusion of white trash”.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who had never even mentioned the attacks on Saint Denis or Saint Sulpice, quickly went to Notre Dame and declared, “Notre Dame is our history, our literature, our imagination”. He totally left out cathedral’s religious dimension.

The next evening, he said that Notre Dame would be rebuilt in five years: it was a bold statement. Many commentators interpreted his words as dictated by his will desperately to try to regain the confidence of the French people after five months of demonstrations, riots and destruction stemming from his ineffective handling of the “Yellow Vests” uprising. (On March 16, much of the Champs-Élysées was damaged by rioters; repairs have barely begun.) All experts agree that it will almost certainly take far longer than five years to rebuild Notre Dame.

Macron strangely added that the cathedral would be “more beautiful” than beforeas if a badly damaged monument could be more beautiful after restoration. Macron went on to say that the reconstruction would be a “contemporary architectural gesture”. The remark raised concern, if not panic, among defenders of historic monuments, who now fear that he may want to ​​add modern architectural elements to a jewel of Gothic architecture. Again, he totally left out the cathedral’s religious dimension.

Macron’s attitude is not surprising. From the moment he became president, he has kept himself away from any Christian ceremony. Most of the presidents who preceded him did the same. France is a country where a dogmatic secularism reigns supreme. A political leader who dares to call himself a Christian is immediately criticized in the media and can only harm a budding political career. Nathalie Loiseauthe former director of France’s National School of Administration and the leading candidate on the electoral list of Macron’s party, “Republic on the Move,” for the May 2019 European Parliament electionswas recently photographed exiting a church after mass, which led to a media debate on whether her church attendance is a “problem.”

The results of French secularism are visible. Christianity has been almost completely wiped out from public life. Churches are empty. The number of priests is decreasing and the priests that are active in France are either very old or come from Africa or Latin America. The dominant religion in France is now Islam. Every year, churches are demolished to make way for parking lots or shopping centers. Mosques are being built all over, and they are full. Radical imams proselytize. The murder, three years ago, of Jacques Hamel, an 85-year-old priest who was slaughtered by two Islamists while he was saying mass in a church where only five people (three of them old nuns) were present, is telling.

In 1905, the French parliament passed a law decreeing that all the properties of the Catholic Church in France were confiscated. Churches and cathedrals became property of the State. Since then, successive governments have spent little money to maintain them. Those churches that have not been vandalized are in poor condition, and most cathedrals are in poor condition, too. Even before the devastating fire, the Archdiocese of Paris stated that “it can’t afford all the repairs” that Notre Dame needed, “estimated at $185 million.” According to CBS News, in a March 20, 2018 report:

The French government, which owns the cathedral, has pledged around $50 million over the next decade, leaving a bill of $135 million. To raise the rest, Picaud helped launch the Friends of Notre-Dame of Paris Foundation. It works to find private donors both in France and across the Atlantic.

“We know Americans are wealthy, so we go where we think we can find money to help restore the cathedral,” Picaud said.

On the evening of the fire at Notre Dame, hundreds of French people gathered in front of the burning cathedral to sing Psalms and pray. They seemed suddenly to understand that they were losing something immensely precious.

Following the fire, the French government decided to start collecting donations from private individuals, businesses and organizations for reconstruction; more than one billion euros have poured in. French billionaires promised to pay large sums: the Pinault family (the main owners of the retail conglomerate Kering) promised 100 million euros, the Arnault family (owners of LVMH, the world’s largest luxury-goods company), 200 million euros, the Bettencourt family (owners of L’Oréal), also 200 million. Many on the French “left” immediately said that wealthy families had too much money, and that these millions would be better used helping the poor than taking care of old stones.

For the foreseeable future, the heart of Paris will bear the terrible scars of a fire that devastated far more than a cathedral. The fire destroyed an essential part of what is left of the almost-lost soul of France and what France could accomplish when the French believed in something higher than their own day-to-day existence.

Some hope that the sight of the destroyed cathedral will inspire many French people to follow the example of those who prayed on the night of the disaster. Michel Aupetit, Archbishop of Paris, said on April 17, two days after the fire, that he was sure France would know a “spiritual awakening”.

Others, not as optimistic, see in the ashes of the cathedral a symbol of the destruction of Christianity in France. The art historian Jean Clair said that he sees in the destruction of Notre Dame an additional sign of an “irreversible decadence” of France, and of the final collapse of the Judeo-Christian roots of Europe.

An American columnist, Dennis Prager, wrote:

The symbolism of the burning of Notre Dame Cathedral, the most renowned building in Western civilization, the iconic symbol of Western Christendom, is hard to miss.

It is as if God Himself wanted to warn us in the most unmistakable way that Western Christianity is burningand with it, Western civilization.

Another American author, Rod Dreher, noted:

This catastrophe in Paris today is a sign to all of us Christians, and a sign to all people in the West, especially those who despise the civilization that built this great temple to its God on an island in the Seine where religious rites have been celebrated since the days of pagan Rome. It is a sign of what we are losing, and what we will not recover, if we don’t change course now.

For the moment, nothing indicates that France and Western Europe will change course.

Editor’s note: This article was first published by the Gatestone Institute and is republished here by permission.

Photo Credt: Ibrahim Ezzat/NurPhoto via Getty Images

America • Post • Religion and Society • The Culture

Joy Comes in the Morning

I lost an earring this week.

The simple, square, gold earrings were a gift from my mother a bazillion years ago. Monetarily they were probably fairly insignificant, but as far as their meaning? I could not place a value on them. I thought about her every single time I wore them, which was often.

I ran into a series of closed doors this week. I spent an inordinate amount of time on the phone with various slow-moving bureaucracies. I cajoled people to do the jobs they were already supposed to do. A semi-threatening return address on an official letter showed up in my mailbox. My kids squabbled. Some of my people have worrisome things going on in their lives. I said something insensitive to a daughter and hurt her feelings. I got irritated by something personal on social media, and I have all these other things looming. My son is transitioning to a new phase in life, empty-nest syndrome lurks just around the corner, and there are some difficult situations lying in wait for me.

I was supposed to be contemplating all this Holy Week represents for me as a Christian, and yet my time seemed doubly spoken for and I could barely find the opportunity to brush my teeth.

I have a hangnail and a stomachache, and has my hair always been coming in this grey? Sometimes it all feels like too much. And then feeling like it is all too much feels like too much.

When we are struggling, even well-meaning Christian friends can make us feel worse—like we are failing at the holy life, failing to be grateful and not focusing on our blessings, or even like we are being self-centered. These things may all be true at different times, but it seems unbiblical to say we ought not to toil, and that sometimes those toils bring us down in spirit. A hymn from my childhood popped unbidden into my head while I was in the midst of the doldrums with this line in particular pointing at me: “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.”

We find one of the most breathtaking stories from the Bible where we realize with acuity that our Savior really does understand us, that He knew sorrows and loss and impending hardship beyond anything that we might begin to imagine. Here is one such account from the night of His betrayal:

Then Jesus went with His disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with Him, and He began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

As we watch His story expand before our eyes, we see Him rise a short time later and go to the awful-beyond-words thing that lay ahead of Him. And He did not proceed with joy, nor with faux contentment encouraged by pious friends, nor any kind of weak passivity. We only read acceptance and a desire to do His Father’s will.

So then there is this, that we who share in the joy of an Easter morning can well relate to a perfect Man who bore griefs and pain unimagined so that I . . . and you . . . might have a Savior who calls us with a gentle yoke to lay our griefs and pain at His feet! “Laying them at His feet,” though, does not mean we step away from them, or that they resolve themselves, or that our worry is somehow magically lifted. It only means that we learn that it is ok to abide in them. We learn that we, like He, must shoulder them, and carry on to do our Father’s bidding, and somehow in that process, we recognize more fully (and yet through a glass darkly) what it means that Jesus went into the dark of the night to meet with His betrayer.

And as our thoughts turn deeper and quieter and we turn the pages of our Bibles, we gasp in pain as we read through the events of an illegal trial, unfounded accusations, a weak attempt to renounce charges brought against this Man, and then, finally, a punishment we can scarcely understand. We see Him go as a lamb (“Alas! and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head for sinners such as I?”) to His undeserved death, and His receipt of that which we deserve.

We continue to read, searching the pages of the sacred text for meaning, and our hearts leap within us as we glimpse in our mind’s eye the stone rolled away from the tomb and hear as if with our own ears, “He is not here! He has risen!” For it is in this ultimate defying of the laws of the grave that we hope as a people with great hope. It is in the stone rolled away, the folded linens, the sheer emptiness of the tomb, that the weight in our hearts gives way to the single highest hope that we can have in this life: that of life beyond the grave.

So as we approach this Easter morning one earring short, it is with great anticipation that we can proclaim, “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes!”

And joy yet comes in the morning.

Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

America • Center for American Greatness • civic culture/friendship • Defense of the West • Education • political philosophy • Post • Religion and Society • The Culture

Who Will Convert Us? The Life of James V. Schall, S.J.

At the passing of a priest, age 91, who was also a profound scholar and inspiring teacher, one expects to see praise of his dozens of books, hundreds of writings, 60 years’ worth of lectures, and generations of students.

In the case of Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., the longtime Georgetown University political theorist who passed away on April 17, 2019, such praise will be deservedly legion. More to the crux of the matter, his whole life seemed devoted to rebirth or conversion, the Socratic periagoge, a decisive turning around. As the example shows, such an experience is not limited to Catholics but is fundamental to a fully lived human life.

Indeed, the most striking eulogy of all may be the one by the geopolitical strategist and author known as Spengler. David Goldman wrote on Facebook, a few hours after his passing:

Fr. Schall was a theologian as much as he was a strategist, and brought a deep understanding of mankind’s spiritual condition to bear on geopolitical analysis. I had the privilege to meet him and correspond with him over the past decade and considered myself blessed to engage so luminous a mind. There are few strategic thinkers who understand the primacy of man’s existential condition in the course of world affairs. We cannot forget him; we cannot replace him. We only can mourn.

And earlier a mutual friend, a Chinese immigrant scholar, wrote late last year to Fr. Schall, recalling one of several Chinese dishes they had shared (though Schall was persuaded away from the duckfeet):

We also tried the whole fish dish at a Chinese restaurant in Arlington (walked across the bridge to get there). You did a good job using chopsticks to extract fish from the bones and added green onion slices to go with it. Then, you philosophized over the fish skeleton with its head and tail arching upward.

Using the recollection of the food, she was recalling him to life from what had been presumed was his deathbed.

More modestly, I recall breakfasts with Fr. Jim in Georgetown (I always visualize him in motion from the Jesuit Residence to our rendezvous). At one he exchanged greetings with George Will, noting to me that the columnist had hired former students of his as research assistants. We would discuss questions of political philosophy, theology, current politics, and the university. This would prepare us for interviews in the form of exchanges conducted by email, to be published by the Claremont Institute. The focus of these conversations, which began in 2002 and were typically published during Advent, was on the relationship between theology and philosophy in the study of political philosophy.

One of those conversations reemerged as an Appendix in Schall’s book, The Mind That is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays.

The conversations thus reflect the catholicism (with a small c) of Schall’s teaching. I could recommend for this purpose one of his earlier books, At the Limits of Political Philosophy, in particular the chapter on an enduring theme of his, political friendship, that is, patriotism.  But this catholicism, this defense of the West, is displayed in particular in the book on Pope Benedict’s 2006 Regensburg Lecture which I recommend to my classes on American political rhetoric. In debunking journalistic accounts of Benedict’s analysis of the crisis of the West, Fr. Schall shows the profundity of that crisis for both reason and faith by explicating the text. In repudiating its roots in faith, Schall and Benedict show, that the West also denies reason. Revelation and rationality require each other and belong together. As he put it more recently,

The Church really is the last major bastion in the world that stands for the sanity of normal mankind. Its enemies, and it has enemies, recognize the importance of capturing the “image” of a Church about to change, about to embrace modernity in all its glory and goriness. I think that Pope Francis has learned a lot in his first year in the papacy. What is missing is what Benedict and John Paul II understood, namely, the importance of intellect in this whole analysis of what needs to be done.

This account of this powerful message can be found in a Claremont conversation that occurred just before Easter, almost exactly five years ago. The context I supplied for our exchange was a two-day seminar led by Harry V. Jaffa on his own major books.

While not a participant at that seminar, Schall observed that  

I am in part thinking of Harry Jaffa’s remark at Strauss’s funeral that the importance of Aquinas was that he kept Aristotle alive. Indeed he did, but he also saw how Aristotle and revelation were in fact related. It has been my life work, as I look back on the political philosophy essays and books that I have written, to explain how they belong together. We still must keep the proper distinctions and observations.

Schall repeated this theme in his reflections on his life in January. They are particularly acute as the smoke of the Notre Dame fire still lingers:

We want to say that nothing basic is really going on. Yet too much evidence appears that some huge disconnect it taking place in our midst. That clear line of thought from Aristotle to Aquinas to Benedict seems frayed. Orthodoxy meant a confidence that what was handed down was not itself changing or becoming obscure. It also meant that reason would meet what was revealed to us as compatible with what we could learn by ourselves. The truths of God made reason more itself, when thought out.

Strictly speaking, if what is revealed and what is understood are no longer coherent to each other, then that central promise on which we rely for stability of doctrine and practice cannot be maintained.

Fr. Jim and I had spoken several times of a book collecting  his Claremont conversations, as a complement to another book of conversations he has since published. Our volume might conclude with writings from his last years.

I’ll remember the time of his passing, April 17, 12:48 Pacific Time corresponds to when (albeit in Eastern Time) I was scheduling a Mass to be said for him. About the nearest date available was St. Anthony of Padua’s Feast Day, June 13. Fitting for a world that is losing its mind and for a saint who was a Doctor of the Church. My birthday too, for my conversion seems impossible without Fr. Jim.

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Photo Credit: The Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University

Europe • Immigration • Post • Religion and Society • Religion of Peace

European Churches: Vandalized, Defecated On, and Torched ‘Every Day’

Countless churches throughout Western Europe are being vandalized, defecated on, and torched.

In France, two churches are desecrated every day on average. According to PI-News, a German news site, 1,063 attacks on Christian churches or symbols (crucifixes, icons, statues) were registered in France in 2018. This represents a 17 percent increase compared to the previous year (2017), when 878 attacks were registered — meaning that such attacks are only going from bad to worse.

Among some of the recent desecrations in France, the following took place in just February and March:

  • Vandals plundered Notre-Dame des Enfants Church in Nîmes and used human excrement to draw a cross there; consecrated bread was found thrown outside among garbage.
  • The Saint-Nicolas Church in Houilles was vandalized on three separate occasions in February; a 19th century statue of the Virgin Mary, regarded as “irreparable,” was “completely pulverized,” said a clergyman; and a hanging cross was thrown to the floor.
  • Vandals desecrated and smashed crosses and statues at Saint-Alain Cathedral in Lavaur, and mangled the arms of a statue of a crucified Christ in a mocking manner. In addition, an altar cloth was burned.
  • Arsonists torched the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris soon after midday mass on Sunday, March 17.

Similar reports are coming out of Germany. Four separate churches were vandalized and/or torched in March alone. “In this country,” PI-News explained, “there is a creeping war against everything that symbolizes Christianity: attacks on mountain-summit crosses, on sacred statues by the wayside, on churches… and recently also on cemeteries.”

Who is primarily behind these ongoing and increasing attacks on churches in Europe? The same German report offers a hint: “Crosses are broken, altars smashed, Bibles set on fire, baptismal fonts overturned, and the church doors smeared with Islamic expressions like ‘Allahu Akbar.'”

Another German report from November 11, 2017 noted that in the Alps and Bavaria alone, around 200 churches were attacked and many crosses broken: “Police are currently dealing with church desecrations again and again. The perpetrators are often youthful rioters with a migration background.” Elsewhere they are described as “young Islamists.”

Sometimes, sadly, in European regions with large Muslim populations, there seems to be a concomitant rise in attacks on churches and Christian symbols. Before Christmas 2016, in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany, where more than a million Muslims reside, some 50 public Christian statues (including those of Jesus) were beheaded and crucifixes broken.

In 2016, following the arrival in Germany of another million mostly Muslim migrants, a local newspaper reported that in the town of Dülmen, “‘not a day goes by’ without attacks on religious statues in the town of less than 50,000 people, and the immediate surrounding area.”

In France it also seems that where the number of Muslim migrants increases, so do attacks on churches. A January 2017 study revealed that, “Islamist extremist attacks on Christians” in France rose by 38 percent, going from 273 attacks in 2015 to 376 in 2016; the majority occurred during Christmas season and “many of the attacks took place in churches and other places of worship.”

As a typical example, in 2014, a Muslim man committed “major acts of vandalism” inside a historic Catholic church in Thonon-les-Bains. According to a report (with pictures) he “overturned and broke two altars, the candelabras and lecterns, destroyed statues, tore down a tabernacle, twisted a massive bronze cross, smashed in a sacristy door and even broke some stained-glass windows.” He also “trampled on” the Eucharist.

For similar examples in other European countries, please see here, here, here, here, and here.

In virtually every instance of church attacks, authorities and media obfuscate the identity of the vandals. In those rare instances when the Muslim (or “migrant”) identity of the destroyers is leaked, the perpetrators are then presented as suffering from mental health issues. As the recent PI-News report says:

“Hardly anyone writes and speaks about the increasing attacks on Christian symbols. There is an eloquent silence in both France and Germany about the scandal of the desecrations and the origin of the perpetrators…. Not a word, not even the slightest hint that could in anyway lead to the suspicion of migrants… It is not the perpetrators who are in danger of being ostracized, but those who dare to associate the desecration of Christian symbols with immigrant imports. They are accused of hatred, hate speech and racism.”

Editor’s note: This article was first published by the Gatestone Institute and is republished here by permission.

Photo Credit: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

Cultural Marxism • Defense of the West • Post • Religion and Society • Religion of Peace • The Culture

Notre Dame: An Omen

The symbolism of the burning of Notre Dame Cathedral, the most renowned building in Western civilization, the iconic symbol of Western Christendom, is hard to miss.

It is as if God Himself wanted to warn us in the most unmistakable way that Western Christianity is burning—and with it, Western civilization.

Every major Western (and one major non-Western) social and intellectual force has conspired to rid Europe of Christianity and the civilization it produced.

Within the Western world, the French Enlightenment—the intellectual basis of the French Revolution and the modern West—sought to replace Christianity, and religion in general, with secularism rooted in reason. No God, Bible or Ten Commandments is necessary for morality or meaning: reason (and science) will replace them.

The two final deathblows to Christianity in Europe were the world wars. World War I ended most Westerners’ belief in the nation-state and the West. Christianity, already weakened by the Enlightenment, was further weakened by World War I. German Christians were killing millions of French and English Christians, and French and English Christians were killing millions of German Christians. So the argument and sentiment against Christianity went. Then World War II saw even more death on the Christian continent as well as the failure of Catholic and Protestant churches in Nazi Germany to offer even minimal noncompliance with the Nazis’ Jew-hatred.

With the end of World War II, every internal Western intellectual doctrine was secular. God, the Bible and religion were regarded at best as innocuous nonsense and at worst as noxious nonsense.

Meanwhile, Europeans brought a non-European ideology into Europe, an ideology that, for more than a thousand years, sought to replace Christianity as the world’s dominant religion. The Europeans, believing in nothing distinctly Christian or Western and believing in the moral and intellectual nonsense known as “multiculturalism”—a doctrine that asserts that all cultures are morally equivalent—saw nothing problematic in bringing millions of Muslims into Europe. They had no idea that most of these people actually wanted to replace Christianity with their religion. They had no idea because, in their ignorance and arrogance, they assumed that because they were secular multiculturalists, everybody else was, too—or would be, once they lived in Europe.

They were wrong, of course. And as a result, the two dominant forces in Europe—secular leftism and Islamism—sought the end of Christianity and the West. (The left believes that protecting Western civilization is equivalent to protecting white supremacy.)

This is not producing a pretty picture. Generally speaking, Islam has not been nearly as kind, tolerant, open, medically or scientifically innovative or intellectually curious as Western civilization (and yes, Nazism and communism were born in the West, but they were anti-Western).

Even without tens of millions of Muslims, post-Christian Europe has not produced a pretty picture. This was predicted in 1834, 100 years before Hitler’s rise, by the great German poet Heinrich Heine, a secular Jew (who later converted to Protestantism, “the ticket of admission into European culture”):

“Christianity—and that is its greatest merit—has somewhat mitigated that brutal German love of war, but it could not destroy it. Should that subduing talisman, the cross, be shattered, the frenzied madness of the ancient warriors, that insane Berserk rage of which Nordic bards have spoken and sung so often, will once more burst into flame. This talisman (the cross) is fragile, and the day will come when it will collapse miserably. Then … a play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll.”

European Christians persecuted European Jews, often brutally. But it took a post-Christian ideology, secular Nazism, to produce Auschwitz—just as it took post-Christian communism to produce the Gulag, the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Ukrainian and Cambodian genocides.

Moreover, Nazism and communism aside, the left’s belief that secular reason can replace God and the Bible turns out to be completely wrong. The alleged citadels of secular reason—the universities—are the most irrational and morally confused institutions in the West.

I don’t know if a worker accident or a radical Muslim set fire to Notre Dame Cathedral (as they have scores of other churches around Europe). In terms of what the fire represented, it doesn’t much matter. What matters is the omen: Europe is burning, just as Notre Dame was.

Photo Credit: Nicolas Liponne/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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